Your health and wellbeing are important and personal to you. So, you must have a medical professional with whom you can confide and share your health concerns. Most of all, you need a dependable resource who can give you an accurate picture of your overall health. Suppose you’ve had an unexpected illness or injury or been diagnosed with a chronic condition. In that case, you’ll need the assistance of a healthcare professional who can help you understand your treatment options. A primary care physician (PCP) can provide you with those medical care services.
In a large 2019 study, researchers discovered that people in the United States who had primary care benefits had a better overall experience with their healthcare. The research also determined that people with a primary care physician received significantly more high-quality care. The study defined high-quality care as diabetes care, recommended diagnostic and preventive services, cancer screenings, counseling, and other medical treatments.
Primary care is always your first step in addressing your healthcare needs. Previously, the family doctor or generalist served in this capacity. Today, primary care can be offered by several different medical care professionals.
What exactly is the Primary Care Physician (PCP)?
The primary care physician is a medical doctor trained to diagnose, treat, and prevent a wide range of injuries and illnesses in the general population.
Primary care doctors provide comprehensive medical care, which means they can treat acute and chronic conditions such as allergic reactions, bronchitis, colds, and flu.
Qualifications and Experience
Becoming a primary care physician is a lengthy process that requires many years of schooling and training.
After completing four years of college studies for a bachelor’s degree, future physicians attend medical school, which takes additional four years. Graduates of medical schools earn either a DO (doctor of osteopathy) or an MD (doctor) degree.
Once the physician has received their medical degree, residency is their next step. During residency, physicians study a specific medical specialty course for an additional four to seven years, depending on the field of medicine they intend to practice.
Following that, some physicians complete a fellowship that focuses on a specific area of interest and can last one to three years. Moreover, PCP (primary care physicians) typically study internal medicine, family medicine, pediatric, and geriatrics.
Many doctors decide to get board certification. To become board certified, physicians must complete a residency at an authorized medical facility. They must also pass a comprehensive exam that assesses their field knowledge.
What are the Responsibilities of Primary Care Physicians?
Primary care physicians can work in a variety of settings that includes:
- Private or group practices
- Medical clinics
- Long-term care centers
- Hospital settings for both outpatient and inpatient care
When you visit a primary care physician, you can expect to receive a full range of health services. Let’s look at some of a primary care physician’s services.
Wellness and Preventive Screenings
- Additional risk factors for cardiac diseases
- Diabetes mellitus
- High cholesterol
- Breast, prostate, cervical, and colon cancers
- Developmental disorders
- Immunization status to stay healthy
- Sexually transmitted diseases
- Signs and symptoms of domestic violence
Acute Disease and Injury Care
If you consult your primary care physician because you are injured, sick, or experience troubling symptoms, your physician will likely be able to:
- run laboratory tests to figure out your health condition
- prescribe medications that are appropriate for your condition
- conduct an ECG (electrocardiogram) to access your heart
- do spirometry tests to evaluate your lung function
- treat acute illnesses such as migraine attacks, asthma attacks, and urinary tract infections
- provide wound care services
- manage dehydration or fever
- perform preliminary examinations to check for bone fractures
- splint, cast, and brace injured limbs
- treat skin infections, rashes, bites, or muscle sprains or strains
- connect you to local mental health resources
- identify whether you need to see a specialist
If you have a chronic or long term health problem, your primary care physician can:
- work with specialists to coordinate care
- prescribe medicines to help you manage your health condition and switch them out if they don’t work
- help you make a diet, exercise, and create a self-care plan
- keep an eye on drug interactions if you’re being treated for multiple ailments
- perform necessary lab tests to track your health and improvements
- connect you with state resources that are relevant to your condition
What Type of Primary Care Physician do You Need?
There are several types of doctors who provide primary care services. Below is a quick summary of how they differ from one another.
i) Family Physicians
These doctors give treatments to patients of all ages. They specialized in adult medicine, obstetrics, geriatric, pediatrics medicine, and musculoskeletal care. In a typical family medicine practice, about 10 to 15 percent of patients are children.
Physicians who practice internal medications specialize in treating young adults. As with family doctors, they treat both acute and chronic illnesses. Therefore, they receive training in different fields, including rheumatology, endocrinology, neurology, geriatrics, orthopedics, and rehabilitation.
Pediatricians receive specialized training in the health, development, and treatment of conditions that affect babies, children, and teenagers up to age 21. Many pediatricians treat children as primary care providers, but others may specialize in a field such as pediatric neurology or cardiology.
These doctors specialize in treating senior citizens. Thanks to their advanced training, they are particularly adept at dealing with conditions such as dementia, insomnia, and balance issues. Additionally, there are only 6,900 certified geriatricians in the United States. Thus, locating a geriatrician in your area might be more challenging than finding an internist or family doctor.
iv) Obstetrician-gynecologists (OB-GYN)
These women’s health doctors are trained and experienced in reproductive health, pregnancy, childbirth, and postpartum conditions. Some OB-GYNs, like an internist or family doctor, provide a wide range of general health services, while others specialize in female reproductive health.
v) Nurse practitioners and doctor assistants
A nurse practitioner (NP) or doctor assistant (DA) may treat you in some primary care settings. These highly skilled professionals are becoming increasingly important in primary care settings. Furthermore, they must have a master’s degree, pass a certification exam, and maintain regional licensure to practice. A physician supervises PAs, and nearly half of the states in the US require doctor oversight for NPs.
What to Consider when Picking a Primary Care Physician
Because your primary care physician (PCP) has a significant impact on your wellbeing, it’s critical to find someone you can trust and feel comfortable with. Insurance Shopping can provide options in your state if you don’t have a doctor.
When choosing a primary care physician, keep the following points in mind:
Insurance: Your health insurance plan is an excellent place to start looking for a doctor. If your policy requires you to see in-network providers begin by reviewing the list of participating doctors.
Location: How close is the physician’s clinic to your home or workplace. How long will the trip take if you plan to use public transportation to get to the doctor’s office?
Hours: Are the doctor’s clinic hours convenient for you or your child? Does the office offer evening, weekend, or on-call services if you need assistance?
Language: Is it possible for your doctor or staff members to communicate effectively in the language you prefer?
Certification by the Board of Directors: You can check whether the doctor you consider is board certified by using the Certification Matters tool provided by the American Committee of Medical Specialties.
Online access: Does your primary care team offer telemedicine options? Is there an online health portal where you can ask your doctor questions, make appointments, view test results, and look up your medical history?
Policies: What are the procedures for canceling or rescheduling appointments? Does the office offer a payment plan if you need an expensive program and aren’t covered by your insurance?
Next Steps in Selecting a Primary Care Physician
Once you have narrowed down your list of potential primary care physicians, contact the department to schedule an appointment. When you call the doctor’s office, pay close attention to how the staff members respond. Since you’ll be communicating with the office staff frequently, you should also feel comfortable with them.
When you visit your primary care physician, bring a list of essential questions with you. Notice whether the physician is listening to your concerns. It can be uncomfortable to think of a doctor’s appointment as an interview, but it can also be encouraging. It can help you remember that you and your physician are partnering to take care of your health. Also, it doesn’t matter if it takes more than one interview to find the right doctor for you.
Primary care physicians (PCP’s) are medical specialists who work to prevent, diagnose, and treat a wide range of illnesses that affect individuals at varying life stages. Some primary care physicians specialize in a specific patient population, such as children or the elderly. Some are general practitioners who see patients of all ages.
If you’re looking for a PCP, visit Insurance Shopping to learn as much as you can about the doctor’s practice before making an appointment. Furthermore, building a relationship with the primary care physician who is a good match for you now would likely improve your health status in the future.