A primary care physician (PCP) is a doctor who practices general family medicine. Simply put, a primary care physician is your first step in addressing your health care needs. A primary care physician provides both the first contact for a person with an undiagnosed health concern as well as continuing comprehensive care of varied medical conditions regardless of age, gender, cause of illness, organ system, or diagnosis. Primary care physicians are expert “detectives” at uncovering hidden conditions, recognizing important diseases, and managing common complaints to the most acute and chronic illnesses. They coordinate efforts and make referrals to specialty physicians such as Neurologists, Cardiologist, Endocrinologists, and Gastroenterologists, just to name a few.
Your primary care physician should be a trusted resource who can provide you with a clear picture of your overall health and guide you through treatment options over time as he/she learns your:
- medical history
- reaction to medications
- health goals
- treatment preferences
Your primary care physician should be able to detect if you have a chronic condition that needs to be carefully managed. When you visit a primary care physician, you can expect to have access to a full range of health services.
Choosing a Primary Care Physician (PCP)
So, how do you choose the right primary care physician? Because a primary care physician can have a big impact on your health, it’s important to find one that you trust and feel comfortable.
Ask around. Talk to family and friends or someone you trust about their primary care physician to get a great recommendation of one that is right for you.
Map it out. Make sure that your primary care physician is conveniently located close to you so that you won’t have to travel far for health care.
Check your insurance. Make certain that the primary care physician is in the network of your health insurance plan.
Research board certification and ratings. Perform an online search to ensure that the primary care physician is board certified and has wonderful patient ratings.
Check if online access is available. Does the primary care team offer telemedicine options? Do they offer an online portal where you can ask your physician questions, schedule appointments, see your test results, and access your health history?
Call the office. Call the primary care physician’s office for a first impression of the staff and their phone etiquette. Make sure that they are not too busy to take new patients.
Look at the bigger picture. Make sure that your primary care physician’s philosophy, morals and customs are in line with your own. It’s important that your primary care physician is culturally aware and respects your ideas and traditions.
A good primary care physician should:
- be someone you trust and feel comfortable with and can speak open and honestly
- listen to you and partner with you to find successful ways to maintain your health
- have up-to-date knowledge and expertise
- be accessible
- put you first
Remember that your primary care physician is a medical doctor who is trained to prevent, diagnose, and treat a broad array of illnesses and injuries in the general population. He/she is trained in wellness and prevention and commonly check for:
- high blood pressure
- high cholesterol
- risk factors for heart disease
- breast, cervical, prostate and colorectal cancers
- diabetes mellitus
- developmental disorders
- status of immunizations to prevent illness
- sexually transmitted diseases
- signs of domestic violence
A primary care physician will be able to perform lab tests, prescribe appropriate medications for your condition, check drug interactions, conduct an EKG to evaluate your heart, provide wound care, treat skin irritations and infections, treat chronic conditions and assess your need to see a specialist.
The bottom line
Primary care physicians are doctors who work to prevent, diagnose, and treat a wide range of conditions that affect people at all stages of life. Building a relationship with a primary care physician who is a good fit for you is likely to improve your health outcomes now and in the future. So, choose wisely.
Disclaimer: this information is not a substitute for medical care. As always, you should consult with your doctor or health care provider.