A primary care provider, or PCP, acts as the quarterback of your healthcare team. She or he knows your history and how you play this game of life—and offers advice on your next move to maintain good health.
“Primary care is a preventive health specialty. We order or perform health checks including mammograms, pap smears, prostate screens, annual lab tests and vaccines to make sure your overall health is on track,” said a physician at TMH Medical Clinic.
Why it’s Smart to Have a PCP
It generally takes a doctor at least a few visits to fully understand the picture of your health. Once they get to know you, they can provide better care. That’s why it’s valuable to choose a doctor rather than bouncing around from one to the next.
“Results of one of my favorite studies found that if your doctor can remember your first name your overall health is likely to be better. Once a doctor knows your health history, current health status and lifestyle habits, she or he can do a better job taking care of you,” the physician said.
How to Choose a Provider
When choosing a primary care provider, people tend to first review the list of providers from their insurance company. Next, they consider location and how easy it is to access their provider—do they have walk in hours or extended hours? Next they might consider whether they want a female or male provider and if they speak their primary language.
“Most importantly, you want to feel a connection with your doctor. If you don’t trust them or feel comfortable with them, you are less likely to share concerns about your health,” physician said.
Know What the Letters Mean
Did you know that primary care doctors pick between two tracks in medical school? They become a Doctor of Medicine (MD) or an Osteopathic Doctor (DO). Everyone recognizes the letters MD after a doctor’s name. DOs receive the same amount of training, but with a more holistic—or whole person—focus.
Primary care physicians can be trained in family medicine, internal medicine and general practice. Pediatricians also act as primary care physicians for children. Board certified physicians have passed an exam in their specialty and maintain continued education.
Physician Assistants also provide primary care. Despite what their name implies, PAs are able to work independently with patients due to their advanced training yet are overseen by physicians. Consider PAs as a step between an RN and a doctor— they hold a master’s degree, as do nurse practitioners, or NPs.
“It’s really important to become established with a provider because everyone has their own baseline for health. When I know a patient’s baseline, I notice when something is different, or a condition is getting worse. I can also make recommendations based on their family health history,” concluded the physician.