Choosing a primary care provider is one of the most important health decisions you’ll make. They are specially trained to serve as your main doctor and manage your care over the long term. A primary care physician also refers you to specialists that treat only certain conditions, parts of the body, or age groups.
The two main groups of primary care doctors include internists (internal medicine) and family practitioners (family medicine). Internists focus on identifying and treating diseases and conditions that occur within the body’s systems. Internists treat mainly teens and adult patients. Family doctors provide care to all age groups and both genders with their grounding in pediatrics, gynecology and geriatrics.
Primary care medical offices also include physician Assistants (PA) or Nurse Practitioners (NP). Both have a Master’s Degree in their respective medical training, but there are subtle differences. Physician Assistants attend medical school while Nurse Practitioners go to nursing school. Medical school emphasizes the pathology of a condition or illness and adheres to a disease-centered model of care. On the other hand, nursing school emphasizes the patient and subsequent patient populations and follows a patient-centered model of care. They can both possess certain specialties in their medical practice. While a nurse practitioner might specialize in pediatrics, geriatrics or women’s health, for instance, the physician assistant may focus on emergency medicine, family practice or internal medicine. Both practice under the supervision of a medical doctor.
When choosing a doctor, PA or NP, your insurance coverage may dictate a specific range of in-network providers. No matter what type of provider you currently have or are looking to choose, always refer to this quick checklist for quality:
- Rated to give quality care.
- Has the training and background that meet your needs.
- Takes steps to prevent illness-for example, talks to you about quitting smoking.
- Has privileges at the hospital of your choice.
- Is part of your health plan, unless you can you afford to pay extra.
- Encourages you to ask questions.
- Listens to you.
- Explains things clearly.
- Treats you with respect and alleviates embarrassment.
It is important to develop a strong relationship with your provider. This not only increases your satisfaction with their care, but you will enjoy better health. Good communication and collaboration leads to always getting the appropriate tests and treatments needed.