What a Primary Care Provider Is and How to Choose the Primary Care Physician

Many of us only go to the doctor when something’s wrong, but there are many good reasons to develop a relationship with a family doctor or primary care provider when you are feeling well. This can make things much easier when you do experience a more challenging illness and help you maintain good health over your lifetime.

primary care physician discussing healthcare with elderly patient

So, what is a primary care provider? Many different professionals can fill this role. Here’s a little bit more about them and how you can find the one that’s best for you.

What are the different types of primary care providers?

Many people think of primary care providers as doctors. While physicians normally do play that role, there are a number of other trained professionals who also provide primary care.

  • Doctor of Medicine (MD): An MD is a doctor who has graduated from a traditional medical school and received extensive postgraduate training.
  • Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO): A DO is a doctor who has graduated from an osteopathic medical school. A DO also has extensive training, focused mainly on preventive care.
  • Physician Assistant, Certified (PA-C): A PA-C works alongside an MD, performing physical exams, assisting in surgeries, ordering tests, and treating illnesses.
  • Advanced Registered Nurse Practitioner (ARNP): An ARNP is a nurse with advanced training. They also work alongside MDs in diagnosing and treating illnesses, as well as performing patient exams and ordering tests.

Each of these primary care providers must meet strict educational and licensing requirements in order to practice.

How can you choose a primary care physician?

Your primary care physician can become an important member of your healthcare team. Here are some questions to ask as you’re looking for a new doctor:

  • Are they recommended by friends or family?
  • Are they covered by my insurance?
  • Is their office nearby?
  • Is their office easy to contact?
  • Is the staff friendly and helpful?
  • Does the doctor communicate clearly?
  • Does the doctor listen to my concerns?
  • Who can I contact after hours or when my doctor is away?

You can add to these questions with whatever is important to you when choosing a new doctor.

When should you go to a primary care physician?

Many of the services that you would want and expect from a primary care provider can be offered by a professional such as a nurse practitioner or a physician’s assistant.

However, because of the nature of an MD’s training, they can provide more comprehensive care. For example, a doctor can review your entire medical history and create treatment plans that take your entire medical history into account.

A doctor can diagnose more complex medical conditions, simply because their extensive training has given them more exposure to more unique cases. They also have the authority to perform a wider scope of medical tasks, like performing surgery.

You might, therefore, choose to visit an MD for primary care when your concerns go beyond routine monitoring. Perhaps you have unexplained symptoms or an ailment that hasn’t gotten better with treatment.

What are the benefits of having a primary care provider?

A primary care provider helps you to manage everyday health concerns. While you may have many healthcare providers throughout your life, you can develop a long-term relationship with your family doctor. They can identify health issues early, when they are easier to treat. This can save you money on medical costs and keep you healthier overall.

Best of all, a primary care doctor can get to know you and your feelings about medical treatment. When a serious problem arises, they can use that knowledge to give you and your family the best advice.

When should you go to the emergency room?

Sometimes, you need immediate medical care. At these times, it is best not to wait for an appointment with your doctor. Instead, you should visit an emergency room.

Go to an emergency room when someone might pass away or experience permanent injury. Some examples of when to go to the ER include:

  • Heart attack
  • Chest pain
  • Suspected stroke
  • Sudden paralysis
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Uncontrolled bleeding
  • Suspected poisoning
  • Broken bones
  • Seizures
  • Head injuries
  • Large or open wounds
  • Mental health emergencies

If you’re not sure whether to go to the ER, call your doctor’s office.

When should you contact a primary care provider?

You should make an appointment with your primary care provider whenever you have a health concern. More specifically, here are some examples of when you may want to go to a clinic:

  • Regular check-ups.
  • Ongoing monitoring of health issues, like diabetes or high blood pressure.
  • Mental health concerns, such as new feelings of sadness, anxiety or worry.
  • Illnesses that don’t improve with home treatment, like flu symptoms that last longer than 10 days.
  • Unexplained or complex symptoms, like constant back pain, digestive issues or severe headaches.

If you have a relationship with a primary care provider, they can use your medical history to diagnose and treat your symptoms.

Why should you choose a provider at Intermountain Health?

Intermountain Health is dedicated to providing excellence in primary care. Our medical teams are connected to a wide network of specialists who can offer the advanced care that you need. To get started with a primary care provider, use a find a provider tool today to make an appointment.

*This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for medical advice or diagnosis from a physician or qualified healthcare professional.

Part of being well is being heard.