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Primary Care Physicians 101


A Primary Care Physician (PCP) is a medical professional who serves as the old fashioned family doctor.  Unlike the old fashioned family doctor that focused on the management of ailments, today's PCPs add preventive counseling.  


  • Provide overall care for the patient on a continuous basis.
  • Provide counseling and encouragement about wellness matters such as good nutrition, exercise, smoking cessation and screening tests.
  • Recommend specialists in particular diseases or parts of the body when needed.
  • Act as the gatekeeper for medical care for people who have managed care health insurance. Patients cannot see a specialist or receive other medical care without first going through a PCP.

A PCP can be a doctor, nurse practitioner or physician's assistant. Many PCPs are Internists - doctors who specialize in adult care.

People have been known to use specialists as their PCP. For instance, many women use a gynecologist as a PCP.

Ideally, in addition to being an excellent medical practitioner, a PCP should be a good teacher and a person who practices what he or she preaches. It can be difficult to listen to a doctor's encouragement to eat right and to exercise if the doctor doesn't do it.  The doctor should also be knowledgable about specific disciplines you may be interested in, such as yoga or relaxation therapies. If the doctor offhandedly dismiss these complementary therapies as quackery,  reconsider your choice of coach.

If you feel your PCP is not the ideal doctor for you, consider changing doctors. 

NOTE: When considering whether to use a primary care physician or a walk-in clinic, keep in mind that a PCP knows you and your history - including parts that you may not consider mentioning to a medical person at a walk in clinic at a particular moment. A PCP can put things together that a walk in clinic may miss. Once diagnosed with a serious health condition, a PCP can also help keep track of how the condition and/or treatment affect other aspects of your life.


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