By Kip T. Mentzer, MD, family practitioner with Wheaton Franciscan Medical Group in Wauwatosa.
A primary care doctor is more than just the person you call when you feel sick, get hurt, or need a refill on your allergy medication. He or she follows the latest research on disease risk factors and can tell you how to lower your individual risk of health problems.
“Primary care providers”, or PCP, is a general term given to the following areas of medicine:
- Family medicine. These doctors offer care for men, women, children and infants throughout their lives. In some cases, one doctor may be the primary care physician for the entire family. Some may also offer additional expertise in minor surgeries, pediatrics or obstetrics.
- Adult (internal) medicine. Internists offer non-surgical medical care and wellness services to adults and teens. They focus on prevention, diagnosis and treatment of adult diseases. Again, some may also offer additional expertise in minor surgeries, pediatrics or obstetrics.
- Pediatrics. Physicians who provide wellness, prevention and other medical care for children, generally from birth to mid-teen years. Pediatricians can help manage issues specific to the child’s development and growth as well as address illnesses, injury and other medical problems.
- Obstetrics/gynecology. These physicians often serve as a PCP for women, especially those of child bearing age. They are experienced in pregnancy, childbirth and disorders of the reproductive system.
When it comes to managing your overall health, primary care plays a huge role. Your primary care doctor can encourage you to make healthy lifestyle changes, manage your preventive tests and treatments, and help you through illnesses. They can identify and treat common medical issues, answer your medical questions and offer advice. This person may also become the “quarterback” of your health history; they become the doctor other doctors will call for information if you are ever hospitalized for a serious medical condition.
Selecting the right physician is also important. Open enrollment periods are great times to evaluate if your physician is best meeting your health needs.
- Make sure you feel comfortable with the doctor. You will want to develop a trusting, long-term doctor-patient relationship. Visit the physician’s website, and you’ll often find a picture, a statement or something that gives you a taste of the physician’s personality, style and practice preferences. One of the best things you can do for your health is to establish a strong working partnership with your primary care doctor and his or her health care team.
- Find out whether the doctor uses electronic health records. Personal electronic health records make it easier to share important health information quickly if you need to be seen at another medical facility or in an emergency room. These secure online records also provide you with access to your health record to view test results, request prescription renewals and appointments, and review health-maintenance screening tests.
- Consider where your doctor’s office is located. While most healthy adults only need a checkup every one to five years, it is more convenient to have a doctor located close to your home or work.
- Talk to your family, friends, and co-workers. Real-time referrals also help.
And remember: annual visits are more than just “wellness physicals." It is a time to really stop what you are doing and focus on your health with a medical professional, and together take steps to prevent any potential health problems. In fact, your primary doctor can spot signs of serious chronic illnesses – such as high blood pressure and diabetes - during an annual visit. They can help you manage and address such issues when they are in more treatable stages, and work with you on a short and long-term health plan to improve your health. In addition, many health plans offer free prevention visits and/or annual check-ups visits (i.e. no copayment) with your primary care physician. It's important to check with your health plan directly to see if it covers such services.
Visit Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare's website for more information: