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What is a Primary Care Doctor?

Keep in mind...
  • Primary care doctors are also referred to as primary care physicians, internists or family physicians
  • PCPs provide routine medical care and annual exams
  • Primary care physicians are your first point of contact for preventive medicine

At some point, most people will require the services of a doctor, either to treat an illness, tend to an injury, or even provide preventative care. Many people do not have a primary care doctor, and instead rely on urgent care facilities to address their medical needs.

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What is a primary care doctor?

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A primary care doctor is a doctor who provides ongoing care for regular medical concerns. In other words, your primary care doctor is the physician you go to when something ails you, and who will refer you to a specialist if necessary.

Generally, primary care doctors will run their own medical office as a business or partnership with another doctor, rather than being part of a large network in a hospital or clinic. Many doctors who work in clinics can be considered primary care doctors by the type of care they provide.

What are a primary care doctor’s qualifications?

In order to become a primary care doctor,  individuals must complete postgraduate study in internal medicine, family medicine, or pediatrics.

Unlike specialists who only see and treat a certain type of condition, general practitioners take on a number of varied patients and have general knowledge of many different types of medical conditions.

Your primary care doctor should be able to diagnose and treat most common conditions. In the event that you require additional care, your physician will generally refer you to a specialist in that field.

General practitioners are usually very well-connected and may know several excellent doctors in other fields in any given location.

Most general practitioners act as gatekeepers for the patient as well as the primary source of patient care records. Additionally, because patients usually return regularly to their primary care doctor, a relationship can be built between them which may not exist with other doctors.

Why is having a Primary Care Doctor important?

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Primary care doctors facilitate ongoing care prescribed by specialists. For example, if you have a condition requiring surgery, you will be referred to a surgeon for pre-op and post-op care as well as the surgery itself, but you may be required to follow up with your primary care doctor several times after the operation.

In addition, if you go to the emergency room,  you will need to to follow up with your general practitioner for ongoing treatment and to get refills for any prescriptions written by emergency room doctors.

Primary care doctors provide physical examinations, diagnose common illnesses, write prescriptions, and read lab results and x-rays.

Most in-depth or complicated diagnostic tests are usually given by specialists rather than a general practitioner. General practitioners also provide yearly examinations or physicals.

Why do you need a primary care doctor?

One major reason to have primary doctor is so that you can build a relationship with the doctor. By going to one individual for all of your basic medical care, you can be sure that your medical records are complete and accurate.

You can also save yourself the hassle of trying to explain pre-existing conditions to a new doctor each time you visit a clinic.

Another reason people choose a general practitioner is cost. Because of the way care is structured, primary care doctors are less likely to request expensive diagnostic tests in situations where they are not necessary.

Office visits with your primary care doctor will usually be covered by major health insurance plans, as opposed to a treatment by a specialist or in the emergency room.

In addition, if you have a long-standing relationship with your primary care doctor, you may be able to take advantage of payment plans or discounts that the practice offers.

Urgent care clinics, emergency rooms, and specialist doctors all have their place in the medical field. For annual exams, a primary care doctor is best choice and can offer you the basic care you need at an affordable price.

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