Who are Primary Care Physicians and What Role Do They Play?


A primary care physician, also known as a family doctor, is a healthcare professional, who is trained in the domain of general medicine. Hence, a primary care physician or PCP is the first echelon of the medical care we seek whenever we are unwell. Physician assistants and nurse practitioners can sometimes also function as primary care providers, although most PCPs are physicians.

When Should You Pay a Visit to the Family Doctor?

Primary care physicians are the doctors we go to see when we need a routine checkup or for any other type of non-emergency medical care. This is to say that, people go to see their family doctor if and when they develop a mild fever, a rash, or a persistent cough.

If you are feeling dizzy or nauseated regularly or if you’ve been getting a persistent headache over the last few days, then you should make an appointment with a primary care physician near you.

Your family doctor will be able to uncover the cause behind the symptoms and then decide what to do about it. He may, of course, see fit to refer you to a particular specialist depending on what the underlying health condition is and how serious it can get if left untreated.

Usually, a primary care physician can treat most minor and ordinary ailments such as a fever, an upset stomach, or a sudden allergy. However, if your family doctor determines that the ailment is something beyond his expertise, then you might be referred to a trusted specialist, who has more experience dealing with that particular type of illness.

Role and Functions of a Primary Care Physician:

In cases when a patient requires ongoing treatment or needs to be admitted to a hospital, their primary care physician may oversee the treatment and help family members make medical decisions on the patient’s behalf (especially if the patient is a minor). One major function of a primary care physician is to help people avoid sickness and ill-health in the first place, with the help of comprehensive and competent preventive care.

To get the best preventive care possible, however, you need to form a positive ongoing relationship with your family doctor or primary care physician and establish mutual trust. You must visit your primary care physician for routine checkups and follow their advice so as to create and maintain a healthy lifestyle and a wholesome diet. You must also encourage other family members to do the same, to help them stay fit and healthy.

The Different Types of Primary Care Doctors:

While all primary care physicians practice general medicine, there are some distinct categories within this medical domain and not all family doctors are the same. Some of the most common types of primary care doctors are:

  • Family practitioners: These are doctors, who care for and treat patients of all ages, including children and the elderly. They are typically responsible for the health of all members of a family.
  • Pediatricians: They are the medical practitioners, who specifically care for infants, toddlers, adolescents, and teenagers. They do not treat patients over the age of eighteen.
  • Internists: These medical practitioners are also known as internal medicine doctors. They primarily see patients who are adults or in their late teens.
  • Obstetricians: An obstetrician is a doctor, who specializes in health issues which primarily affect women and girls. They treat both adult women and adolescent or teenage girls.
  • Nurse practitioner: A nurse practitioner is essentially a mid-level medical practitioner, who has the required training to provide primary care to patients of various age groups. They are usually advanced practice registered nurses.

Finding the Ideal Family Doctor:

To find the perfect primary care physician for your family, you must first understand your own need and priorities. For instance, you will need to find a family doctor whose office is relatively close to your home and who accepts your health insurance.

If you have children, then you should also consider how helpful and friendly the staff is at the doctor’s office and whether or not they are reasonably good with children. Is it hard to get in touch with the doctor when you need to? Will his or her office hours coincide or clash with your own schedule? All of these factors need to be taken into account when choosing a primary care physician.

Find out if the PCP’s office also offers extra services such as those of a dietitian, social worker, or mental health specialist. For the best results, you should do your own research thoroughly and also ask your friends, colleagues, neighbors, and relatives for their suggestions. If they can put you in touch with a doctor whom they already know and trust, the amount of risk associated with the choice will be significantly minimized.

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