What is Medical Primary Care?

Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis

Medical primary care refers to the first medical attention given to a patient with a suspected illness or condition. A primary care physician is typically what many once referred to as a “family doctor.” Most health insurance companies assign or allow patients to choose a medical primary care doctor who will serve as their first point of contact should an illness, injury, or potential health problem arise.

Primary care physicians serve as family doctors.
Primary care physicians serve as family doctors.

People with a cough or flu-like symptoms will often use medical primary care for diagnosis and treatment. Physicians that specialize in primary care are usually good diagnosticians, able to quickly determine the severity of the condition and either treat the patient, order additional tests, or refer the patient to a specialist for additional treatment and care. Primary care doctors also may prescribe treatment, such as medication, to either cure a condition or help diagnose an illness correctly.

Although medical primary care can provide diagnosis and treatment for simple illnesses, one of the main functions of medical primary care is to provide referrals to specialists. Medical specialists, such as neurologists or renal pathologists, tend to accept patients that have health issues in their field of study. By having medical primary care physicians refer patients with a suspected condition, specialists are allowed to focus on illnesses and conditions that fall within their expertise. In this way, medical primary care acts as a valve for the medical system, ensuring that patients are referred to the correct doctor for advanced care.

Finding a medical primary care physician may be confusing in some instances. Doctors often work together in shared offices or as a medical team; it is very possible to call for an appointment with an assigned primary care physician and be given a meeting with another doctor or nurse on the same team. If this is a matter of concern, clearly inform the office that only appointments with the assigned physician are acceptable, or consider switching to another care provider.

When choosing a medical primary care physician, location, services, and personality may all be important. Don't be afraid to switch doctors if the one initially assigned is not ideal; many insurance companies allow customers to change doctors within their network of coverage. Some primary care physicians may require an initial physical or check-up in order to determine current health status. Be sure to answer all questions and participate in all tests fully; a doctor fully up to date on the health of his or her patient may find it easier to diagnose any health issues later.

Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis

With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica is passionate about drama and film. She has many other interests, and enjoys learning and writing about a wide range of topics in her role as a wiseGEEK writer.

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