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Understanding the basics: What is a primary care provider?

Understanding the basics: What is a primary care provider?

Whether your health insurance requires you to designate a primary care provider or not, it’s a good idea to have one. What is a primary care provider, though?

If you’re a football fan, a simple explanation is to think of your primary care provider (or PCP) as the quarterback of your healthcare. Your PCP calls out the plays when it comes to your health and wellness, directing you to other medical providers (let’s say a wide receiver or running back) when needed.

A primary care doctor is one type of PCP, but a primary care provider can also be a nurse practitioner or a physician assistant. Keep reading to learn more about this key member of your LCMC Health care team.

Why you need a primary care provider defines a primary care provider as “a physician, nurse practitioner, clinical nurse specialist or physician assistant, as allowed under state law, who provides, coordinates or helps a patient access a range of healthcare services.”

That’s a formal way of saying what we mentioned above: Your PCP guides your care. This is the medical provider you should visit on a regular basis for well-person checkups, meaning medical visits when you’re feeling healthy.

These visits allow your provider to get a good look at your overall health and wellness through a thorough physical exam, a check of your vital signs and routine blood tests to measure cholesterol and blood sugar. During these preventive care visits, your provider can also recommend age-appropriate medical screenings and vaccinations.

Choosing a primary care provider may take a little trial and error. Keep searching until you find a provider with whom you feel comfortable sharing details about your health and lifestyle. You should also inquire about logistics such as office hours and how to access care when the office is closed.

Depending on your specific needs and wants, your primary care provider may be specialized in family medicine or internal medicine. Women may choose to see their OB/GYN as a PCP, while children and teens may see a pediatrician as their PCP.

When you might need a specialist

Your primary care provider plays a big role in helping you stay healthy and prevent medical conditions such as heart disease or cancer.

In most cases, your PCP can provide you with a diagnosis and get you started with treatment for many medical conditions. When you’re dealing with a chronic condition or a complex or highly specialized medical issue, however, you may be referred to a specialist for further care.

While PCPs have training in treating health conditions affecting the entire body, specialists have specialized, in-depth training and are board-certified in caring for a certain subset of health problems.

There are specialists for every part and system of the body. You probably know quite a few, and you may even have seen one—perhaps a dermatologist for a skin check, a cardiologist for a heart health issue or an oncologist for cancer.

Any specialist you see will coordinate care with your primary care provider. That means that the two providers will share your medical records and information pertinent to your health and well-being to provide you with optimal overall care.

They’re two separate members of a team—and every team member is needed to keep you at your best.

A primary care provider can help you navigate the ins and outs of your health and well-being. Need a new provider? Find one here.