What is a Primary Care Provider and Why Do You Need One?

Disclaimer: This post may contain affiliate links. This means I receive a commission off any sale resulting from a link in this post. Also I am a Nurse Practitioner, but I am not your Nurse Practitioner. This post is for educational purposes only and is not meant to diagnose or to offer treatment advice. If you have concerns about your health, seek help from your healthcare provider.

The healthcare system in the United States is very confusing and difficult to navigate.  Most of us have a hard time remembering all of the details of our care.  Not to mention, its hard to understand healthcare terms and jargon.  If you have multiple chronic problems, there’s a good chance that you have at least one specialist.  It doesn’t take much to become overwhelmed.

What can you do to ease the confusion of your healthcare?

Do you have a primary care provider?  If you don’t, you should.  I’m always surprised by how many patient’s I see that don’t have a primary care provider.  Even those who have 2-3 specialists may not have one.  They see their specialists then go to the emergency department or urgent care when they are sick.  This just amazes me.  I’ll explain why you need a primary care provider, then you’ll understand my amazement.

What is a Primary Care Provider?

A primary care provider (PCP) is the doctor, nurse practitioner, or physicians assistant that oversees all of your care.  This is the person that you go to when you feel sick, when you have general questions or concerns, and for your annual wellness exams.  If you are perfectly healthy, you may only see your PCP once a year.  If you have chronic health issues, you probably see your PCP every few months.  PCP’s are educated on a broad array of common illnesses and chronic health problems.  They can manage many of your health concerns.

Why You Need a PCP

You need a PCP to coordinate your overall healthcare and to guide preventive care.  If you are healthy, your PCP will perform screening tests to determine your risks for disease and help you develop a plan to reduce your risks.   Sometimes these screening tests are through labwork, checking your blood pressure, asking about your family history, and other times involve scheduling a mammogram, colonoscopy, etc.

Sometimes, if you have a rare condition or a chronic health issue that requires specialty care, you may have other doctors that follow you as well.  Your PCP is there to refer you to appropriate specialists and to coordinate your care between multiple doctors.  The PCP makes sure that the treatment plans between your team of doctors work well together.  This increases the safety of your healthcare.

How to Choose Your PCP

A PCP may be a pediatrician, a family doctor or nurse practitioner, work in internal medicine, or be a geriatrician.  If you are unsure whether or not the healthcare provider you are seeing would be considered a PCP, ask them.  You should choose someone that you are very comfortable with and that you trust.  Choose a PCP that listens to you and your concerns, that answers all of your questions or that is willing to research your questions and get back to you.  Choose a PCP with good bedside manner and that you would feel comfortable with your most private issues.

If you meet with your potential PCP for the first time and you leave that appointment thinking “man that doctor was rude”, “he acted like he didn’t have time to listen to my concerns”, “she kept cutting me off mid-sentence”, “he sure is full of himself”, or you just feel that your personalities don’t mesh well, then that probably wasn’t the PCP for you.  It is very important to have a good relationship with your PCP.

There is a reason I keep harping on that patient-provider relationship.  You want to be able to talk to your healthcare provider about your deepest darkest secrets.  Whether that be depression, drug abuse, infidelity, physical or mental abuse, or a terminal illness.  I for one don’t want a healthcare provider that I don’t like to tell me I have cancer or only 6 months to live.  Do you see why this is so important?

I hope that this helps you on your path to wellness. Leave me questions below.

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