You’re a complex individual with unique needs. When it comes to taking care of your health and wellness, you need a healthcare provider who can take care of you from head to toe.
To stay safe and healthy today and in the future, you need access to a provider who knows and understands your health history, wellness goals, and concerns.
Beyond just treating your aches and pains, you need a provider that offers comprehensive care that includes:
- disease prevention and screenings
- diagnosis and treatment of many types of illness
- education related to disease prevention or treatment
- injury care
- coordination of your care
Primary care is your first resource for healthcare. It’s about having a provider who will partner with you to help you stay healthy and able to live your best life.
The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine defines primary care as “the provision of integrated, accessible health care services by clinicians who are accountable for addressing a large majority of personal health care needs, developing a sustained partnership with patients, and practicing in the context of family and community.”
Primary care incorporates several different kinds of healthcare services.
One part of primary care focuses on wellness and prevention. To keep you healthy and free of disease, your primary care doctor will likely:
- take a careful look at your health history so they can determine what risk factors you may face
- offer vaccinations to keep you from catching a disease
- perform screenings so they can catch health issues early
- coach you on lifestyle changes you can make to stave off illness in the future
Another part of primary care is acute healthcare. These are issues or injuries that may come on suddenly and typically don’t have a long-term impact on your health.
Say you’re on the basketball court and you twist your ankle. Or maybe a cough or cold is especially bothersome. Your primary care physician’s office is the place you would go for treatment of these kinds of issues.
Primary care is also an excellent resource for helping you manage chronic, long-term conditions like diabetes or asthma.
Your primary care provider can regularly monitor your condition. Because they work with you over a longer period, they can track changes in your health and help you decide if it’s time to see a specialist.
Additionally, your primary care provider is often aware of factors in your community that may affect your health. For, instance they’re kept up to date on illnesses that are sweeping through your local school system and will know if there’s an uptick in the number of flu cases in your area.
Nobody wants to feel like a number in a vast, impersonal system — especially when it comes to something as important as taking care of your health.
Primary care is meant to be your main source for healthcare, one in which you have an ongoing partnership with your healthcare provider in the larger context of your community. Primary care is designed to:
- give you better access to healthcare
- lower your costs
- improve your health outcomes
Many people find that primary care is a better alternative than going to the emergency room because it’s a less expensive and a less time-consuming way to treat basic, acute illnesses or injuries.
According to the Council on Graduate Medical Education, people who have easy access to a primary care provider tend to spend less money on their healthcare and are healthier, too.
Primary care providers are comprised of several different types of healthcare professionals.
Here are some of the options you may have in your area:
- Family physicians. Family doctors are trained to prevent, diagnose, and treat conditions in people of all ages, including children and older adults. They can perform a wide range of services from immunizations and disease diagnosis to minor surgery.
- Internists. Doctors of internal medicine are specially trained to prevent, diagnose, and treat health conditions that affect adults of all ages. They don’t treat children.
- Pediatricians. Pediatricians are doctors who specialize in treating babies, children, and teenagers up to the age of 21.
- Geriatricians. Geriatricians are doctors who specialize in treating older adults. They can provide care for a specific age-related condition, or they may integrate your care if you’re dealing with more than one condition.
- Obstetrician/gynecologists (OB-GYN). OB-GYN doctors specialize in taking care of women’s reproductive health, pregnancy, childbirth, postpartum issues, and menopause.
- Nurse practitioners. Nurse practitioners are clinical nurses trained to prevent, diagnose, and treat a wide variety of health conditions. They can prescribe medications, create treatment plans, and help patients manage their care. They can work independently from a doctor and in their own scope of practice.
- Physician assistants. Physician assistants are healthcare professionals who can prevent, diagnose, and treat health conditions in patients of all ages. Because physician assistants can perform many of the same services as a doctor, they have become increasingly important providers of primary care. However, they can’t work independently from a doctor. They need a doctor to sign off on or prescribe medications.
Your primary care provider can perform many different diagnostic services, treatments, and procedures. Here are just a few of the services they commonly provide:
- cancer screenings
- cardiovascular health screenings
- diabetes screenings
- medication prescriptions
- minor surgical procedures like suturing wounds
- birth control services
- casting, splinting, and bracing
- wound care
- health counseling
In the United States, one good place to start your search for a primary care provider is with your health insurance plan, if you have one. Many plans maintain a list of primary care providers in your area.
Depending on the type of insurance you have, you may save money by choosing a doctor in your plan’s network of providers.
You can also talk to friends, neighbors, or colleagues in your community to find out about primary care providers they’d recommend. You can book an appointment with a primary care provider in your area using our Healthline FindCare tool.
Additionally, online reviews might provide you with some insight into the provider’s personality, communication style, and policies.
Once you have identified a primary care provider who seems like a good fit, make an appointment to see them. This will give you a chance to decide whether you could form a positive relationship with them.
If you’re unhappy with the provider, don’t hesitate to find a new one. You may want to choose a different provider within the same practice. Or you could look into options that may be available to you through community clinics or other healthcare outlets.
Primary care is your healthcare home. Primary care providers are trained to prevent, diagnose, and treat conditions you may have across your whole life span.
Primary care includes preventive services like diabetes and cancer screenings, diagnosis and treatment of acute injuries and sickness, and management of long-term conditions.
Primary care providers can include family physicians, internists, geriatricians, pediatricians, OB-GYNs, nurse practitioners, or physician assistants.
Primary care allows you to get comprehensive care from a provider that knows and understands you — and possibly knows your family and community as well.