Primary Care Physician
Your primary care physician is your first stop on the path of good health. In general, you have only one primary care physician: your main, go-to doctor who’s responsible for your overall health and treatment. In the past, these physicians were known as family doctors or general practitioners. Today, they’re called primary care physicians, primary care providers or simply PCPs.
You schedule all your yearly physical exams and other preventative health care appointments with your local Manhattan primary care physician. This doctor works with you in the same manner a general practitioner once did — often using diagnostic skills to determine what you’re suffering from and if you’re at risk of developing future health problems. Your PCP provides your treatment options and recommends the best course of action to get you well and keep you healthy.
What a Primary Care Physician Does
Your primary care physician serves your entire family, from your baby to your grandfather. As a generalist, your PCP can act as an internal medicine doctor, pediatrician or gynecologist whenever needed. An internist is trained in preventing, diagnosing and treating the most common medical conditions. Internists are doctors of internal medicine, occasionally referred to as the doctor’s doctor because other physicians turn to them when they’re seeking help on a difficult or baffling diagnosis.
Just like the family doctors of years past, you call your PCP first when you or a member of your family is feeling sick or has been hurt. If you wake up with the flu or your child has an earache, your primary care physician is more than ready to help you feel better and get your child back to school. Additionally, your primary care doctor can help you manage any chronic condition or illness you suffer from, including:
- Acid Reflux
With occasional help from a specialist when needed, your primary care provider can hold your symptoms from these conditions in check. Your PCP often points you in the right direction to regain and maintain your health.
One Title, Many Hats
Your routine care remains the responsibility of your primary care provider. Usually, these doctors are:
- Family practitioners
- General practitioners
All of these primary care physicians are licensed medical doctors that have graduated from medical school. Depending on their fields of study or specialty, a one-to-three-year residency is also required. But sometimes, your PCP can be a:
- Physician assistant
- Nurse practitioner
These health care professionals typically practice under the license of their employing physician. While they’re considered mid-level providers or physician extenders, they can handle the most common complaints. And of course, the primary care physician is nearby if needed.
When You Need Medical Care
Today, many insurance plans require that you have a primary care provider. Your insurance plan comes with a list of already approved, in-network primary care physicians. You can choose one or be assigned one. In this capacity, your primary care provider is the doctor who provides access to the other services included in your health plan. Generally, you aren’t permitted to see a specialist or receive physical therapy unless your primary care provider refers you to one.
Even if you’re not required to have a primary care provider, having one is still a wise choice. Having a single doctor familiar with you and your individual needs is an important part of maintaining your long-term health. PCPs are concerned doctors with whom you can develop a lasting relationship.
Primary care physicians get to know you. They become acquainted with your body’s workings in sickness and in health. They can treat your family and loved ones for years to come. A good primary care physician is invaluable for prolonging your health and quality of life.
Beyond Primary Care
While they can handle most illnesses and conditions, primary care providers know their limitations. So sometimes your doctor enlists the aid of a specialist. While your physician may be capable of recognizing the problem, there are times when you need an expert’s advanced care and abilities. Furthermore, since the medical field has surged forward in recent years, you can’t expect your PCP to have access to every new diagnostic tool or specialized treatment.
So your primary care physician may seek specialized assistance for specific health care problems that exceed the boundaries of regular internal medicine. Your doctor may consult outside specialists or directly involve them in your initial diagnosis or ongoing treatment. Areas where a specialist’s opinion or assistance may be sought include:
The Value of an Advocate
Quite possibly the most valuable and least understood function of your primary care physician is planning and coordinating your individual health care. PCPs function as strategists who enable multiple doctors and specialists to work as a team, providing you with the most comprehensive health care experience possible. A good primary care provider serves as your advocate, especially needed if your medical situation becomes complicated or involves multiple trips to the hospital.
In circumstances that involve multiple doctors, you can benefit from having a competent captain to keep all the players moving in the same direction. Without solid leadership and direction, the quality of your care can easily suffer or medications may not be compatible. Poor leadership in these times can cause more harm than good.
Sadly, the number of patients going to see primary care providers is dwindling. Whether this is due to recession or perception is unknown and open to interpretation. But either way, it’s obvious that overall, people are failing to realize the importance of this vital role in the health care industry. By continuing to visit your primary care physician, you can:
- Improve your quality of life
- Increase your life expectancy
- Lower your health care costs
If you don’t have a primary care physician, it’s time to begin developing this healthy relationship. Let a generalist take charge of your health care. Gain an advocate and a friend in the process. It starts by scheduling a simple checkup.