What is a Primary Care Physician?
And why YOU need one.
True story — I recently had an unexpected problem arise with my business. It occurred suddenly, and I did not have a lot of time to find a solution. I had no idea where to begin. After panicking for a day or two, my gut told me I needed help. I contacted someone who has helped me in the past, and I knew that this person may not be able to solve the problem for me, but had the knowledge and contacts to point me in the right direction. I reached out to them, and felt much better after talking with them. It was not an easy journey from that point, but I was able to solve the problem.
I realized that my story illustrates exactly why you, yes YOU, need a Primary Care Physician (PCP). Read the above paragraph again, thinking of my problem as belly pain and the person I reached out to as a PCP. I had a problem that was bothering me, I wasn’t sure where to turn, but I relied on someone that knew me and my history to help me solve it. In real life, I was sure that the person I reached out to was only able to help me because they knew me. Yes, it took time to develop that relationship, but it saved my business! Having a PCP can save your life. At the very least, research shows that people who have a PCP are healthier.
A lot of people are not clear on who a PCP is, what we do, etc. so I would like to help to explain that. Adapted from the American Academy of Family Physicians website (https://www.aafp.org/about/policies/all/primary-care.html), a PCP is:
1. Trained for and skilled in comprehensive first contact and continuing care for persons with any undiagnosed sign, symptom, or health concern not limited by type of problem
PCPs are trained to decide whether the health problem you have requires an immediate workup (ER/hospitalization/etc.) or can be safely evaluated over a period of time. I’ve heard other doctors say they would have a hard time being a PCP because we need to know a lot about a lot. I enjoy the challenge! PCPs are also trained to start an evaluation on any kind of problem, physical or emotional – from waking up with belly pain to a long-time struggle with depression symptoms.
2. A first point of entry into the healthcare system and as the continuing focal point for all needed health care services
PCPs want to see you for a problem FIRST, before you think about going to a specialist, or perhaps even urgent care. If during an initial evaluation, I am not sure what is going on, then I will refer you to a specialist, and help you to interpret what is said or weigh any options presented to you (scheduling surgery vs. taking a medicine for a while). In addition, PCPs are great at seeing the “big picture” of your health. A patient may go to a specialist, and let me know that a new medication was added. I look in the patient’s chart only to see this is a duplicate medicine of what they are already taking (this happens with anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) a lot). You can think of a PCP as the center hub of a bike wheel. There may be a lot of spokes in that wheel, who represent other people involved in your healthcare, but all of the spokes should lead back to the center hub, your PCP.
3. A Family Medicine, Internal Medicine or Pediatric physician who takes continuing responsibility for providing the patient’s comprehensive care. This care may include chronic, preventive and acute care.
Not all doctors are skilled in providing ongoing care for a patient. Yes, you may see a specialist frequently, but a PCP makes sure that you are going for your cancer screenings, recommended screening labs, and follows your entire health over time. Also, a lot of women think their OB/GYNs are their PCP. Yes, OB/GYNs take care of a lot of women’s needs, but did you know your PCP may be able to do your pap tests, talk about family planning needs, and basic period problems? Many prospective patients are surprised to hear that I provide these services and can save them some time and money by not going to another MDs office.
If you are looking for a Primary Care Physician, check out Noreta Family Medicine. Give me a call and I’d be happy to answer any questions for you – 803-667-4190.
Melissa Boylan, MD, FAAFP