Monday Medical: Primary care and women’s health |

Monday Medical: Primary care and women’s health

Susan Cunningham
For Steamboat Pilot & Today

Editor’s note: This story is part 1 of a 2-part series on women’s health. Part 2 focuses on the role OB/GYN care.

A primary care provider works with women through their lives, often serving as a one-stop shop for preventative care and addressing emergent issues.

“Early detection of disease is much better than letting it progress to an advanced disease where you might have signs and symptoms that prompt you to go to the doctor,” said Dr. Jennifer Kempers, an internal medicine physician in Steamboat Springs and a member of the medical staff at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center. “Primary care preventative medicine is about getting it before it happens.”

That includes checking blood pressure and cholesterol to help prevent heart disease, heart attacks and strokes; blood tests to screen for issues such as diabetes and thyroid disease; and bone density checks to check for osteoporosis.

Primary care doctors provide recommended vaccines for diseases such as flu, COVID, tetanus, and depending on age, shingles and pneumonia. “Vaccinations are important for the prevention of diseases and keeping you healthy,” Kempers said.

Various cancer screenings can be recommended, such as colonoscopies to screen for colon cancer starting at age 45, while other screenings like breast exams and pap smears can take place.

“These screenings help catch things early so that the treatment is easier and hopefully curative,” Kempers said.

Primary care providers help address substance use, such as alcohol, tobacco and other drugs, while also checking in on a patient’s mental health. And they work with patients to address medical power of attorney and advanced directives.

“If something emergent were to happen and you weren’t able to make your own decisions, medical power of attorney lets you choose who would be able to make those decisions,” Kempers said. “You don’t have to be elderly to have an emergency happen where you may need that decision maker.”

Having a primary care provider not only helps with preventative care, but it can make a difference when a new issue arises.

“It’s important to develop a relationship with a provider so you can work towards a common goal in terms of your health,” Kempers said. “If we’re just meeting someone for the first time in crisis, it can be harder than if we know the patient and their past, and can look at trends.”

Various aspects of women’s health can be addressed with a primary care physician, including mild gynecological complaints such as vaginal discharge, menopausal signs and symptoms, testing for and treating STDs, and reviewing and prescribing contraception. Many primary care providers place IUDs and other forms of implanted birth control.

“We’re very adept at the initial screening and consultation, and refer if it’s out of our scope of practice. It’s about teamwork and working together,” Kempers said. For instance, evidence of cancer on a pap smear, an enlarged ovary or post-menopausal bleeding would often be reasons for a primary care physician to refer to an OB/GYN.

While primary care physicians are trained in obstetrics, many do not practice obstetrical care. For gynecological surgeries, an OB/GYN would be the best resource.

“Primary care is often a good place to start for direction,” Kempers said. “There are a lot of things we can treat that people might not know about, but there certainly may be areas that are not our specialty. We’re very lucky in Steamboat that the providers all know each other and work together as a team.”

Susan Cunningham writes for UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center. She can be reached at

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