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Why you should have a primary care doctor

Written by 
Jennifer Co
Article at a glance
  • It’s not uncommon to hear the term PCP doctor when talking about health. But who are they and what do they do? To learn more about what a primary care doctor is, read this section.

  • Healthcare can seem complicated, especially with all of the terms that are used. Primary care,” specialty care” — is there even a difference? To learn more about the distinctions between primary care and specialty care, read this section.

  • If you find yourself asking: Why do I need a primary care physician?” you’re not alone. Many people aren’t aware of how important and beneficial it is to have a primary care doctor. To learn more about why you should have a primary care physician, read this section.

Why you should have a primary care doctor Oak Street Health

There’s no doubt that your health is one of the most important aspects of your life — if not the most important. But it can be easy to overlook, especially in times when you don’t feel that anything is out of the ordinary. But poor health can limit certain parts of your life and stop you from doing the things you love. And sometimes, there can be underlying problems affecting you, even if they don’t cause symptoms. This is where primary care comes in: it plays a central role in your overall health. Here we’ll talk in detail about why primary care is important, and how it can have a positive impact on both your health and your finances.

What is a primary care doctor?

A primary care doctor (also known as primary care physician, primary care provider, or PCP doctor) is your partner in healthcare. They are specially trained professionals who can address a majority of your healthcare needs such as maintaining your health, as well as preventing, detecting, and treatment of short-term (acute) and long-term (chronic) diseases. A primary care physician leads a team made up of other healthcare providers such as nurses, nurse practitioners, and physician’s assistants, all of whom work together in an integrative approach to provide you with the best care possible.

What's the difference between primary care and specialty care?

With so many different types of doctors out there, it may be confusing to decide what type you should go see when you feel sick. As the name implies, primary care is your initial point of contact with the healthcare system. It’s not limited to a specific problem area (such as physical or mental health), or a particular organ system (e.g., cardiology, pulmonology, gastroenterology). Rather, primary care manages your care comprehensively, looking at all aspects of your health. There are different types of primary care doctors (for example, pediatricians, family/​general practice physicians, internal medicine physicians, and gynecologists), and whom you see depends on your age and gender. 

In contrast,specialty care is focused on a particular area of medicine. Specialists are doctors who have undergone additional education and training for a specific discipline. Examples include neurologists, psychiatrists, and cardiologists. There are also subspecialists, whose expertise are even more focused than a specialist. For example, a specialist in oncology (branch of medicine that deals with cancer) can pursue a subspecialty in gynecologic oncology, which narrows their practice to cancers involving the female reproductive system.

Why is primary care important?

All of us need medical care at some point in our lives, but why is primary care especially crucial? Listed below are some of the many reasons.

Familiarity

Because your PCP doctor is often the first doctor you see when you need care, they’re more likely to know your medical history, family history, and personal habits. Knowing these things can help your doctor provide you with care that’s specific to your needs. A good relationship and lasting connection with your primary care doctor is important to help you maintain and manage your overall health. This relationship is based on trust and creates a sense of familiarity between you, which is beneficial to both you and your primary care physician. Getting to know your primary care provider may help you become more open with them. The better your relationship is, the more likely you are to share information with them, and trust the decisions they make about your health.

Preventive health

Preventive healthcare can be divided into three categories: primary, secondary, and tertiary. Primary prevention works by performing specific interventions before a certain health condition occurs. Examples of these measures include vaccinations, and modifying unhealthy habits (e.g., tobacco use, alcohol abuse, or substance and drug abuse). Secondary prevention involves screening for diseases that you may be at increased risk for such as mammography for breast cancer screening, and regular blood pressure testing. Lastly, tertiary prevention is the management of diseases that you already have, with the goal of preventing or slowing down the progression (e.g., screening for disease complications). A primary care doctor is trained to screen for complications through regular checkups.

Cost-effectiveness

One little-known benefit of having a primary care provider is cost-effectiveness. While frequent visits to your primary care doctor may seem expensive, doing so can actually save you time and decrease your overall healthcare costs in the long run. This is because regular visits to a primary care physician can help detect potential illnesses early, and treat them promptly. In turn, this can decrease your chances of hospitalization and emergency room visits, which can amount to overwhelmingly high prices. It’s important to remember, however, that for you to fully receive the benefits of primary healthcare, you have to visit your primary care doctor on a regular basis, usually at least once a year. Not only will this strengthen your relationship with each other, but it will ensure that your medical needs are detected and addressed sooner rather than later.

Now that you know more about the importance of having a primary care provider, you can read these 13 tips on how to choose a primary care physician.

A primary care doctor is a professional who is trained to give you the best possible care that is tailored to your needs. On the other hand, specialized doctors are trained to practice a more specific area in medicine. Regular visits to a primary care physician not only improve your overall health but can ultimately help save you time and lower your overall healthcare expenses.

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