A primary care physician can be thought of as your medical home. He or she is the first healthcare professional you contact when you have a question or need. This is the doctor who can handle a variety of medical problems, who provides preventive care and advice, who maintains your medical history and can refer you to specialists when needed.
They play a key role in managing the overall health of their patients. Because these physicians provide care for individuals or families over an extended period of time, they can oversee all the components of comprehensive care including physical, psychological and other factors that can impact a person’s health. There are three kinds of primary care physicians: family practice, internal medicine and pediatrics. Some OB/GYN physicians also serve in the role of primary care physicians while others practice mainly as specialists.
Family practice physicians
This specialist, also referred to as family medicine or primary care, specializes in the comprehensive treatment of individuals and families from infants to geriatrics. They are trained in several medical areas including internal medicine, pediatrics, obstetrics, gynecology, general surgery and psychiatry with a focus on health promotion, disease prevention, health maintenance, counseling, patient diagnosis and treatment of acute and chronic illnesses.
Internal medicine physicians
Also known as internists, this field may function as primary care physicians, but their concentrated training is in the care of adults. They are specially trained to solve puzzling diagnostic problems and can treat multiple chronic illnesses simultaneously. In some instances, internists receive additional training to become “subspecialists” in cardiology, endocrinology, gastroenterology, hematology, infectious disease, medical oncology, nephrology, pulmonology and rheumatology
Childhood is the period of greatest growth, development and physical maturation. Therefore, as primary care physicians for children, pediatricians specialize in the four primary stages of development including infancy (birth – 1 year), early childhood (1 – 4 years), middle childhood (4 – 10 years), and adolescence (11 – 18 years). In addition to the treatment of childhood diseases and medical conditions, preventive health practices such as immunizations and regular wellness exams are an important part of the care that pediatricians provide their young patients.
Tips for a Successful First Visit
- Make sure the physician participates with your insurance plan, and remember to bring your insurance card.
- Have your medical records transferred from your previous physician.
- Make a list of all the medications you are currently taking including the dosage and any overthe- counter or herbal medicines. You might want to bring your medications so the physician can review them with you. (See Call to Action to receive a free medication card).
- Write down any health concerns or questions and bring the list with you as well as a pen so you can take notes.
- Be honest – physicians are not mind readers. Tell them what is going on so they can provide you with the best treatment possible.
- Ask for the physician’s business card and write down the practice’s afterhours number in case of an emergency.