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What are Primary Care Doctors?

A primary care physician (PCP) refers to a person's main health care doctor. Primary care doctors have the main health records for a patient that includes his or her medical history. A primary care doctor is usually the first doctor a patient sees and a PCP refers patients to specialists if more in depth treatment is needed. In terms of medical professional qualifications within the United States, primary care doctors must be a medical doctor (MD) or doctor of osteopathy (DO). In many other countries, a primary care doctor may have a bachelor of medicine and bachelor of surgery (MBBS) qualification.

The MD, DO and MBBS primary care doctors are basically all the same as they are concerned with the overall functioning of the body. The main difference is that DOs concentrate on the muscular and skeletal system in terms of manipulation and overall health. The United States once used the MBBS credential for doctors, but changed to the MD qualification in the 1800s due to the influence of Scottish and English physicians involved in establishing American medical schools.

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A PCP takes post-graduate studies to become a physician in a field such as family practice, internal medicine, pediatrics or geriatrics. Family practitioners may have board certification and often treat all of the members in families. Patients often see family doctors from babyhood through adulthood. Internists may be board certified. They are primary care doctors who specialize in an area of internal medicine such as cardiology for the heart or gastroenterology for the digestive system.

Pediatricians are PCPs who are knowledgeable in issues that affect children from babies to teens, such as those dealing with proper growth and development. Geriatricians are primary care physicians who focus on the care of elderly patients. They have knowledge of conditions such as arthritis and Alzheimer’s disease that commonly affect older people.

Primary care doctors ask patients questions about their symptoms and conduct physical exams. PCPs check blood pressure and order tests from a lab. They analyze test results and discuss them with the patient. A primary care physician may refer a patient to a specialist in a certain medical area. A PCP may also give the patient lifestyle advice or refer him or her to a nutrition or exercise program such as one being held at a local hospital.

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