Primary care doctors are the first point of call for a lot of patients in the US. They are the “gatekeepers” to specialized care and are there to treat symptoms and look after your general health. While primary care physicians do not have to have any particular specialty, they are more likely to be family physicians or general practitioners.
On that note, primary care physicians provide care for their patients in the areas of preventive, acute, and chronic care. This can include physical exams and diagnostic testing, immunizations, counseling, referring patients to specialists, and prescribing medication.
Unfortunately, there are far too many myths and misconceptions floating around out there that misinform consumers and make everything harder than it should be, so it’s important to look at the world of primary care through a clear lens.
Myth #1: Any Health Professional can Perform Primary Care
This is one of the most common misconceptions about primary care. While it’s true that any type of health professional can do primary care, it’s more of a specialty than a generalized title. The title of primary care physician (PCP) is held only by doctors that have gone to medical school and completed the necessary residency training to become primary care doctors.
In fact, there are many health care professionals that can do primary care, but not all of them are primary care physicians. So you may see certified ambulatory care nurse practitioners or physician assistants that are providing primary care, but they are not primary care physicians.
Remember, to be a primary care physician you must have completed medical school and a residency. To be a nurse practitioner or physician assistant, you need to have completed an accredited school and passed the necessary boards. These are not interchangeable titles.
Myth #2: You Only Need to Visit a Primary Care Physician if You’re Sick
Primary care physicians are not limited to just treating illnesses. They also help patients prevent illness through regular physical exams, administration of vaccines, diet consultations, and other preventative medicine.
They are also used as a resource for navigating a complex healthcare system and helping patients understand the different treatment options that are available to them.
In some cases, a primary care physician will play the dual role of a physician assistant or nurse practitioner and also assist their patients in navigating the healthcare system to get access to needed treatment.
Myth #3: You Always Need the Primary Care Physician’s Referral When Seeing a Specialist
Not all specialists will require an official referral from a primary care physician. In most cases, if you have a specific condition or are having a specific issue, you can just go and see the specialist. The specialist will then be able to diagnose or treat you.
However, if you have a broad list of symptoms or a number of issues that you’d like to be taken care of, you should schedule an appointment with your primary care physician to discuss your situation. Your doctor can then make recommendations and set up a plan for you.
The Bottom Line: Understanding Your Primary Care Physician’s Role
Primary care physicians play an important role in the healthcare system and it’s important to understand their role and how they fit into the bigger picture. While they are not the same as other healthcare professionals, they are an essential part of navigating the system and getting the care you need.
Are You Looking for a Primary Care Physician in Santa Fe?
If you are looking for a primary care doctor in Santa Fe, we would be happy to help you. Aspen Medical Center has a talented group of primary care physicians in Santa Fe who are here to provide you with the help you need!