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Dr. Tammy Bannister, Marshall Health family medicine

HUNTINGTON  New year's resolutions like "lose weight" or "eat healthier" can be both overwhelming and hard to reach, but they have the same thought in mind: be healthier.

As you ring in 2019, consider making it your resolution to be a healthier human, starting with preventative care and finding a primary care physician.

According to the latest statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the percentage of Americans visiting a primary care or general physician is declining.

A national poll of 1,200 randomly selected adults conducted in July by the Kaiser Family Foundation for The Washington Post found that 26 percent said they did not have a primary care provider. There was a pronounced difference among age groups: 45 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds had no primary care provider, compared with 28 percent of those 30 to 49, 18 percent of those 50 to 64 and 12 percent age 65 and older.

But having a primary care doctor is a key factor in staying healthy.

Through routine checkups, primary care can head potentially serious problems off at the pass. As a result, adults in the U.S. who have a primary care provider have 19 percent lower odds of premature death than those who only see specialists for their care, according to Primary Care Progress, a national organization working to strengthen primary care in America.

Primary care also saves the patient money. People who have a primary care provider save 33 percent on health care over their peers who only see specialists. Access to primary care helps keep people out of emergency rooms, where care costs at least four times as much as other outpatient care. If everyone saw a primary care provider first for their care, it would save the U.S. an estimated $67 billion every year.

The savings, both health and cost, come through the personalized care a primary care or family doctor can provide, said Dr. Tammy Bannister, family medicine physician at Marshall Health, as well as residency director and associate professor at the Marshall University Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine.

"Once you make a connection with a person, it does help tremendously with your health care," she said. "Building that relationship, going back to that person over and over, who knows your story, history and situation, it's invaluable to your health."

Primary care doctors will know what screenings a patient needs based on their family history, age and other risk factors, which can prevent diseases from progressing. It can also help prevent a patient from needing to take more medication, Bannister said, another cost saver.

Primary care doctors can also help you reach your resolutions by figuring out the right diet for your body type or whether or not an exercise routine is right for you.

"A doctor can give you reasonable goals," Bannister said.

Bannister said to find the right doctor for you, first check who is covered within your insurance network. Some insurance companies list it online, and you can always call. From there, ask those you trust who they see.

"Ask your family or your acquaintances," Bannister said. "That's really the best way to find out. Everybody after that is easy to find. You have to test the waters. There are going to be all kinds of personalities of doctors just like there's different personalities of everybody, and you want to find somebody you connect with so you feel comfortable talking about some of those things that are awkward from a patient perspective."

If you have anxiety about going to the doctor, Bannister suggested going to small, satellite offices. Marshall Health and other providers have satellite offices in towns across the Tri-State. They are all connected to the same network to get all the perks of having a care team, but in a smaller office space.

Bannister also suggested taking advantage of Marshall Health's wellness clinics offered throughout the year. For $35, patients receive screenings for all kinds of health issues and diseases.

To learn more about Marshall Health, visit www.marshallhealth.com.

Follow reporter Taylor Stuck on Twitter and Facebook @TaylorStuckHD.

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