A Primary Care Physician (P.C.P.) is a Physician, such as a one who specializes in Family Medicine, Internal Medicine, or a General Practitioner, chosen by a patient to serve as his or her health-care professional and capable of handling a variety of health-related problems and of keeping a medical history and medical records on the patient. A Primary Care Physician (P.C.P.) is trained to treat a wide variety of health-related problems and is responsible for referring patients to specialists as needed. To many patients, a Primary Care Physician (P.C.P.) is his or her primary point of contact or point of entry into the medical care system.
For a list of some of the most common conditions treated by Internists, please see the link/webpage titled "Conditions Treated/Medical Care Offered"
Please note there is some degree of overlap between the different medical specialties
Below is a list of nearly all of the medical specialties and some (not all) of the most common diseases/disorders they treat. Also, some of the most common procedures performed by members of each medical specialty are listed. This is a rudimentary guide. It should not be considered exhaustive in any way:
The medical system can be a complicated and frustrating system that appears to be fragmented. How does one know where to begin? In an ideal world, one seeks care from a Doctor for preventative care rather than entering the health system through illness or because of an emergency. To start, patients should always insist on seeking medical care from a Doctor. What is a Doctor? According to the following definitions:
A person skilled or specializing in healing arts; especially: one (as a Physician, dentist, or veterinarian) who holds an advanced degree and is licensed to practice (Merriam-Webster Dictionary).
A medical Doctor; especially: a medical Doctor who is not a surgeon (Merriam-Webster Dictionary).
As demonstrated by the precise definitions above, nurse practitioners and physician assistants (of any certification(s)) are not Doctors/Physicians. With that said, one should seek to establish care with a Primary Care Physician (P.C.P.), someone with a degree of D.O. or M.D. Usually, but not always, Primary Care Physicians (strictly for adults of the age of 18 and older) are Doctors who specialize in Internal Medicine (Internists). Usually, but not always, Primary Care Physicians (strictly for children under the age of 18) are Doctors who specialize in Pediatrics (Pediatricians). Doctors who specialize in Family Medicine have the ability to serve as Primary Care Physicians for patients of all ages (but this may vary by practice and/or location and/or other factors). General Practitioners are Doctors who do not have a specialty although they are capable of providing care in a manner similar to Doctors who specialize in Family Medicine. Usually, but not always, these are Doctors who have practiced for many years (before residencies became commonplace in the 1970s) or Doctors who have completed an internship year following graduation from medical school without further training. General Practitioners are rare to find as most (older) Doctors who served as General Practitioners have retired or are nearing the end of their careers, whereas, most (younger) Doctors opt to pursue residency training after the completion of their internship year.
While Doctors whose specialties are Family Medicine or Internal Medicine practice their specialty for which they have received training, technically they are not considered specialists. A great proverb which contrasts Primary Care Physicians with specialists is that Primary Care Physicians know "A little about a lot" whereas specialists know "A lot about a little." Generally speaking, specialists focus on medical issues requiring a great deal of training while focusing on those medical issues alone. This is not to say that they are not thorough, it is to say that each member of the health care system has a specific role with some degree of redundancy. Primary Care Physicians serve their patients by having knowledge of a large base of medical issues while referring patients to specialists when they have exhausted their base of knowledge. Your Primary Care Physician works in concert with specialists and often serves as the "quarterback" who coordinates care between different specialists.
Many insurance companies (and even the offices of many specialists) will require a referral from a Primary Care Physician prior to evaluating a patient. The reason for this is to save resources for all parties involved. Insurance companies (obviously) don't want to pay for a visit which may not be necessary (especially if it is a medical issue that may be treated by a Primary Care Physician). Specialists on the other hand typically maintain very busy schedules and thus they want to serve patients who truly require their services. It is the role of the Primary Care Physician to diagnose and treat patients and to refer them only when the illness may be beyond the scope of their specialty and/or practice. In many instances, however, the majority of medical issues can be addressed by a patient's Primary Care Physician.
Internists (Doctors who specialize in Internal Medicine) are required to have knowledge of the following specialties:
In many instances, Primary Care Physicians will diagnose medical issues and perform a workup which may include a patient interview, physical examination, laboratory (blood) work, radiological evaluation (i.e. X-rays, C.T. (C.A.T. scans, etc.) and more (if indicated). If the Primary Care Physicians believes a patient needs to be referred to a specialist, the specialist will further evaluate the patient based on a report from the Primary Care Physician (a referral) and based on the workup performed by the Primary Care Physician. The specialist may then decide whether to perform further tests on the patient if they are clinically indicated. Following their appointment with the patient, the specialist will send a report back to the Primary Care Physician so that he or she may update his or her medical records and coordinate care between different specialists.
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