A primary care physician (PCP) sees patients for continued care. They perform all general services and know your health history better than any other doctor.
A visit to your PCP is commonly the first step for common and chronic conditions. They also make referrals to specialists.
Medical care can be complex and unfamiliar, a PCP can be invaluable in guiding you to ensure you’re getting the right care delivered at the right time and in the right place.
What to Look For
In selecting a PCP, you should look for one you can communicate well with, create a professional relationship with and trust.
Look for a PCP who takes the time to inquire about your personal and family life before discussing your medical condition and health. And ask yourself if your PCP answers your questions thoroughly and in a way you can understand. Other things to consider in selecting a PCP:
- Specialty area - Are you looking for a family physician, an internal medicine physician or pediatrician?
- Expertise - Do you have a chronic illness or risk factors that would lead you to request a physician with advanced training or expertise in a particular area?
- Location - Convenient location can be crucial to having a valued and effective relationship with your primary care physician.
- Availability - Do you need to see someone soon?
Establishing a long-term relationship with a PCP who gets to know you and cares for you can certainly help ease your way if you encounter health issues in the future.
At OSF HealthCare, we have internal medicine, family medicine, internal medicine/pediatrics and pediatrics specialties that all fall under primary care.
- Family medicine physicians provide comprehensive care to patients of all ages and genders through all stages of life. They treat a large variety of different health conditions.
- Internal medicine physicians apply scientific knowledge and clinical expertise in the diagnosis, treatment and compassionate care of adults across the spectrum from health to complex illness.
- Internal medicine/pediatrics physicians are trained in internal medicine and pediatrics and can care for the newborn to the geriatric patient. Internal medicine-pediatrics, or med-peds, is a medical specialty in which doctors train to be board certified in both internal medicine and pediatrics.
- Pediatricians are trained in the medical care of infants, children and adolescents up to age 18.
- Obstetrics & gynecology (OB/GYN) practitioners specialize in the female reproductive organs and can often serve as a primary care doctor for women.
Knowing these differences enables you to better understand the unique services each specialty brings and how it may serve your individual and your family’s health care needs.
Types of Providers
You’ll see a variety of credentials on a provider’s identification badge, such as MD, DO, PA or APRN. These different abbreviations mean you have a choice when it comes to selecting the type of primary care provider to care for you and your family.
Physicians fall into one of two categories:
- Medical doctors (MDs) attend medical schools accredited by the Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME). An MD practices what is known as allopathic medicine, which is the classic form of medicine focusing on the diagnosis and treatment of human disease.
- Unlike MDs, doctors of osteopathic medicine, or DOs, are accredited by the American Osteopathic Associate Commission within the Osteopathic College Accreditation (COCA). A DO takes a more holistic approach to treating the body. Rather than treating symptoms with medication, for example, a DO may provide a more hands-on approach called osteopathic manipulative treatment (OMT).
Advanced Practice Providers
You may also seek treatment from an advanced practice provider. Those include:
- Physician assistants, or PAs, are graduates of an accredited PA educational program. They are nationally certified and state licensed to practice medicine with the supervision of a physician. PAs are educated on the medical model with an emphasis on primary care. All PAs rotate through the major specialties and complete a vast number of clinical rotations while in training. PAs are licensed to practice in all areas of medicine and even in surgery.
- Advanced practice registered nurses, or APRNs, are registered nurses with additional advanced clinical education and specialty expertise. APRNs complete a master’s or doctoral degree program with expansive clinical hour rotations and are board certified. Nurse practitioners may be certified in a broad variety of primary care specialties, including family practice, acute care (adult and/or pediatric), women’s health, neonatal, pediatrics, gerontology and psychiatry. APRNs can prescribe medications and order tests for all procedures. A doctor supervises all APRNs.