What Is A Primary Care Physician (PCP)?

By: Edward Neeman
Published: Wednesday, February 06 2019
Last Updated: 3 years ago

What is a primary care physician? If you’ve just enrolled in a Medicare Advantage HMO plan, you probably just found out you need to choose a doctor as your primary point of contact, but you may not be so sure as to what that entails. Well, that’s what we’re to help you with. Learn everything you need to know about primary care physicians, including how to narrow your search and the benefits of maintaining a strong relationship.

What Is a Primary Care Physician?

A primary care physician (PCP), is considered to be your main doctor. In the past, they were referred to as your general practitioner (GP), of a family doctor for their vast wealth of medical knowledge. Your PCP isn’t just the person you go to for preventive services, but your point of contact for all your medical needs.

Under certain health insurance plans, like HMO plans mentioned above, health insurance companies require that you have a primary care doctor for a number of reasons. First and foremost, primary doctors have all your medical records on hand, and usually, develop a relationship and health plan for you as one of their main patients. Second, your PCP will have negotiated rates with your healthcare provider, meaning that they will be less expensive.

What They Do

So, what exactly does a primary care doctor do? For starters, your PCP is considered a generalist. This doctor is supposed to be the one you go to for the majority of your healthcare needs. You should see your primary care physician for a yearly physical exam and for any sort of preventative health care that you may need as well.

Your primary doctor will help determine if there's any sort of medical risks that you are more prone to have, and if the answer is yes, will be tasked to watch your health closely. Your primary doctor is also the one that you will go to for any non-emergency type problems that you may have. For example, if you happen to have sustained an injury to your ankle, but you know it's not broken, you might want to go see your primary doctor.

You will also want to see them if you contract a nasty cold that settles in your chest and doesn’t go away in over a week.

When to Visit

You should visit your primary health care doctor at least once a year during your annual physical exam. This exam is meant to help ensure that you are staying healthy and to catch any sort of situations before they advance. You should also visit your regular doctor if you have any sort of non-emergency situations that you are concerned about, as stated above, including a nasty cold or an injury that isn't severe enough to visit an emergency room for.

How To Find A PCP

Finding a healthcare provider that you like and trust can be tricky. One way to find a good doctor is to speak with your friends and family and ask what provider they have. Ask for some reviews, ask people how they feel about their doctor and if they would recommend the doctor to another person.

Another option is to do an online search. With today's technology, it's easier than ever before to get reviews for doctors that are local in your area. You can use these are views to help you figure out which PCP would best suit your needs and personality.

The Different Types

There are different types of primary care positions. A family practitioner is a doctor who has gone through medical school and has also finished their three-year residency studying Family Medicine. Internal Medicine doctors are physicians who have also completed medical school but they chose to focus on internal medicine during their three-year residency.

While family practitioners are generally trained to be able to handle the care of kids, adults, pregnant women, and the elderly, Internal Medicine doctors tend to focus more on caring for adult and elderly patients. Pediatricians are practitioners who specialize in caring for children and a geriatrician is a doctor whose specialty lies in caring for the elderly.

How to Choose Your Primary Care Doctor

Because your primary care doctor is so integral to your life it's important to make sure that you have a good relationship with them. The best way to do this is to actually schedule a meeting to interview a potential primary care physician. You can explain during your initial call to their office that you are looking for a primary care physician and you would like to meet with a doctor to see if you would work well together. Often, the best way to find a good physician is to meet with them personally.

Benefits of a Primary Care Doctor

There are many benefits in having a primary care physician, starting with the fact that your doctor will be able to know you, and your medical history, without having to do a great deal of research. By seeing your doctor regularly they will get to know what you look like when you are healthy and will be better equipped to diagnose you if you are not feeling well.

There is also a greater sense of comfort when working with someone over an extended period of time. For example, look at your relationship with your barber or dentist. They know a lot about you, and you feel better about opening up about something so personal.

The Drawbacks

One of the main drawbacks of being required to choose a primary care physician lies in how limited you are. For example, with PPO plans, you have more flexibility to see whichever doctor you want, even though it may cost a little extra. With a PPC, you are limited to your provider-network, which may not include your favorite doctor.

You also can’t visit a specialist without getting a referral from your primary doctor. That means, even if you feel that a specialist would be better suited to helping your particular needs, you can’t see them without first getting permission and a referral from your PPC. Overall, it’s safe to say that the benefits of a primary care doctor outweigh the cons of limitation.