Primary Care- Important Part of Your HealthCare Team
Your primary care provider (PCP) is a physician (MD, DO), nurse practitioner or physician assistant with experience and training in general health and medical problems. These providers can offer general medical care and depending on the practice can perform simple procedures.
Primary care providers focus on disease prevention, health screening, and treatment. Your PCP can identify medicine interactions, help you find medical specialists and coordinate complicated medical care if needed. Your PCP can perform screening tests or examination for skin, breast, colon and prostate cancer, osteoporosis, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes are just a few of the illness that can be detected early and treated.
Most primary care physicians complete medical residency training in Family Practice, Pediatrics or Internal Medicine.
A Family Medicine physician (FMP) typically completes a 3 year residency program in Family Medicine. Family medicine training and practice is unique in that it encompasses treatment of the whole family including children and adults. Some family practitioners offer maternity care. Although family medicine practitioners can work in hospital based settings, their focus of care tends to be in the outpatient setting. The FMP is not a general practitioner or ‘GP’. In most states, the general practitioner is a physician who has completed a one year internship after medical school but has not completed a residency program. Patient education and information sponsored by the American Academy of Family Physicians can be found at www.familydoctor.org.
An internist typically completes a 3 year residency in Internal Medicine focused on treatment of nonsurgical problems in adults. An internist may sub-specialize by completing additional training or fellowship in specific area medicine such as cardiology, rheumatology, pulmonology, oncology, gastroenterology, nephrology or geriatrics. Unlike FMP, internists do not provide maternity or pediatric care. Additional information on Internal Medicine can be found through the American College of Physicians at www.acponline.org/patients_families/.
A gerontologist or geriatrician is a FMP or internist that has received additional training in the care and treatment of elderly persons. These specialists can be particulary helpful for an older person with multiple medical problems, and/or cognitive changes.
A midlevel primary care provider is a Physician Assistant (PA) or Nurse Practitioner (NP). A PA typically completes a college degree followed by two years of medical training and hospsital rotations similar to the medical model used in medical schools. A PA can perform medical or surgical care under the supervision of a physician. More information on physician assistants can be foundthrough the American Academy of Physician Assistants at www.aapa.org. An NP is a registered nurse (RN) that completes a minimum of one year Master’s degree training in medical disease and treatment. Log on to http://www.aanp.org/AANPCMS2/AboutAANP/About+NPs.htm for more information about NPs.
Choosing a PCP
If you do not have a PCP - now is the time to get one! Review your answers to the following questions to find the PCP that is right for you.
- Do you want one physician such as a Family Practitioner to provide care for your entire family to include care for your children, adult family members, and gynecologic care (women’s health) or do you have unique medical condition such as a serious heart problem, and prefer an internist with training in cardiology?
- Do they have the appropriate training and are they board certified by their professional organization?
- Do you prefer a small private practice setting or multispecialty setting that includes a network of medical and surgical specialists?
- Is the PCP included in your medical insurance plan? Do they accept Medicare?
- Do they admit or provide consulting services at your community hospital if needed?
- Will you be able to make urgent or same day appointments for new medical problems?
Ask friends, family or other people with PD for recommendations. Choose a PCP that listens, respects your input and with whom you feel comfortable. It is sometimes helpful to schedule an interview or “get to know you” visit with a new physician to be sure there is a good fit before selecting him/her as your doctor (a physician assistant or nurse practitioner can also serve as your PCP).
Schedule a yearly examination to focus on your current medical problems, detect new problems and/or prevent future problems. Keep your PCP up to date on any changes in your PD symptoms and treatment as this may influence how your other problems are treated and will help avoid medication interactions. The Primary Care Worksheet
is designed to help keep you and your PCP on track with unique PD medical needs.
Author: Monique Giroux, MD