What is a primary care provider (PCP)? And why is it important to have one? A primary care provider or PCP is a health care practitioner who sees patients that have common medical problems or conditions. This person is most often a doctor but can be a physician assistant or a nurse practitioner and typically specializes in family practice, internal medicine, pediatrics, geriatrics, obstetrics, and gynecology. Your PCP is often involved in your care for a long period of time and is a trusted resource for your ongoing health care needs.
Studies show that having a primary care physician can help keep you healthy. In fact, a recent study found that adults with a primary care provider:
- Have 19% fewer odds of premature death than those who only see a specialist
- Save 33% on health care over people who only seek a specialist
- People who saw PCPs saw fewer doctors and had fewer hospitalizations and lower costs1
The Benefits of Having a PCP
If you saw one doctor for your heart problems (a cardiologist) and another for a rash on your skin (a dermatologist), these two doctors may not know about each other. There could however be a connection between your rash and your heart problems. Without a PCP looking at “the big picture,” this type of piecing together of symptoms and conditions may have gone unnoticed2.
There are additional benefits of working with a PCP such as:
- Individualized care – understands your unique medical history
- Chronic disease management – monitors chronic diseases and prevents unnecessary complications
- Preventive services – regularly scheduled visits and routine screenings, exams, and vaccinations
- Continuity of care – oversees the entire health picture of an individual
When is it appropriate to seek assistance from your PCP?
There are times when you should see your PCP and times when you should refer to other resources such as your state’s local Emergency Department or Urgent Care Center.
DO see your PCP for:
- Non-Emergency needs
- Common illnesses (cold)
DO NOT see your PCP for:
- Emergencies/life or death situations (heart attack, stroke, severe allergic reactions); go to the emergency department for immediate care
- If you feel your health issue can’t wait; go to urgent care3
Content contributors: Mellisa Criss, USPM Content Specialist and Jennifer Martin, USPM Director of Health Services.