How To Choose A Primary Care Provider
A PCP (Primary Care Provider) is your main health care provider in non-emergency situations.
Your PCP's role is to:
- Provide preventive care and teach healthy lifestyle choices
- Identify and treat common medical conditions
- Assess the urgency of your medical problems and direct you to the best place for that care
- Make referrals to medical specialists when necessary
Having a primary care provider can give you a trusting, ongoing relationship with one medical
professional over time.
You can choose from several different types of PCPs:
- Family practitioners: Doctors who have completed a family practice residency and are board-certified, or board-eligible, for this specialty. The scope of their practice includes children and adults of all ages and may include obstetrics and minor surgery.
- Pediatricians: Doctors who have completed a pediatric residency and are board-certified, or board-eligible, in this specialty. The scope of their practice includes the care of newborns, infants, children, and adolescents.
- Internists: Doctors who have completed a residency in internal medicine and are board-certified, or board-eligible, in this specialty. The scope of their practice includes the care of adults of all ages for many different medical problems.
- Obstetricians/gynecologists: Doctors who have completed a residency and are board-certified, or board-eligible, in this specialty. They often serve as a PCP for women, particularly those of childbearing age.
- Nurse practitioners (NP) and physician assistants (PA): Practitioners who go through a different training and certification process than doctors. They may be your key contact in some practices.
You can get referrals from:
- Friends, neighbors, or relatives
- State-level medical associations, nursing associations, and associations for physician assistants
- Many health plans, such as HMOs or PPOs, have websites, directories, or customer service staff who can help you select a PCP who is right for you
If you do not currently have a primary health care provider, and a health care problem arises, it is usually best to seek non-emergency care from an urgent care center rather than a hospital emergency room. This will often save you time and money. In recent years, many emergency rooms have expanded their services to include reasonably priced urgent care within the emergency room itself or an adjoining area.
To find out, call the hospital first.
REF: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director and Director of Didactic Curriculum, MEDEX Northwest
Division of Physician Assistant Studies, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of
Medicine, University of Washington