Primary care physicians do much more than give you physicals and refer you to specialists.
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Indeed, research suggests they keep you out of the emergency room, operating room and intensive care unit.
“Studies show that in states and areas of our country where there is more primary care, health outcomes are superior, with lower costs,” says Michael Rabovsky, MD. “People are less likely to be hospitalized, and death rates are lower for cancer, heart disease and stroke.
“Infant mortality rates are also lower, birth weights are higher, and rates of immunizations against once deadly diseases are higher.”
Why primary care has an impact
Primary care can have a dramatic effect on your health. Why? Because primary care doctors are trained to recognize and manage a wide range of acute and chronic health problems. And they get to know their patients (and their health issues) well.
But in order to serve the growing needs of the Baby Boomer generation, your primary care doctor doesn’t work alone. He or she guides a whole team of healthcare professionals focused on helping you set realistic goals for managing health issues and for staying well through lifestyle changes.
Today, many of the primary care providers on your team have taken on an expanded role. Here are six types of providers you might see:
1. Primary care physicians (PCPs)
These doctors oversee the team providing primary care for you and your family. They diagnose and treat a wide variety of acute and chronic health problems, and connect you with the appropriate services for routine and specialty care.
- Internal medicine physicians: Trained to provide acute and chronic care for adults of all ages, they specialize in health screenings and management of common adult health problems. Internists are adept at caring for patients with a complex combination of conditions.
- Family medicine physicians: Family physicians provide wellness, preventive, and acute and chronic disease care across the lifespan. They treat entire families, from newborns to the elderly. Their training includes internal medicine, pediatrics, women’s healthcare and mental health care.
- Pediatricians: Pediatricians are trained to provide acute and chronic care for infants, children and teens. They offer guidance to parents on children’s growth and development, and ensure that children receive the right schedule of immunizations against childhood diseases.
2. Advanced practice providers
Advanced practice providers are certified and licensed to provide much of the same preventive, acute and chronic care as your primary care doctor. They can assess, diagnose, treat, prescribe and educate you about your condition(s) and about wellness.
- Nurse practitioners (NPs): Nurse practitioners are registered nurses who go on to earn a Master’s degree from nursing school. They work with your primary care doctor to help manage acute and chronic conditions, and perform preventive exams. They may serve as your only primary care provider, especially if you live in an area that is medically underserved.
- Physician assistants (PAs): Physician assistants earn a Master’s degree after intensive study in a PA program, usually based in a school of medicine. PAs work as a team with your primary care doctor to improve access to quality care.
3. Resident doctors
These doctors-in-training work under your primary care doctor’s supervision during their first years of practice after medical school. They provide advanced medical care and assist you in managing your health.
4. Clinical pharmacists (PharmDs)
Clinical pharmacists are residency-trained to manage chronic diseases, and can prescribe and adjust medication until your condition is well-controlled. They may work as a team with your physician or see you independently.
5. Nurse care coordinators
These registered nurses (RNs) assess your health needs, become your advocate and help you navigate the healthcare system. They help you manage chronic illnesses and prevent health problems.
6. Medical Assistants (MAs)
Medical assistants prepare you and your physician for your visit. They take your history and vital signs, update your chart, call in prescriptions, help with insurance and assist the team in many ways.
It takes a team to safeguard your health
All of these primary caregivers work to provide you and your family with comprehensive, continuous and compassionate care. But they can’t work in isolation — they need your help.
“Come prepared with a list of questions to every appointment,” Dr. Rabovsky advises. “Share your agenda with us so we can work together to help you enjoy a longer, healthier life.”