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What is a primary care physician?

A primary care physician is a medical doctor who acts as the first point of contact for a patient to help them handle a variety of health needs and issues. All doctors are required to earn an undergraduate degree and then attend medical school. At medical school, they can choose a specialty or area of study. Those wishing to become primary care physicians typically study family medicine, internal medicine, pediatrics or geriatrics. 

Think of a primary care physician like the quarterback of your healthcare team. While everyone works together and contributes a vital piece of the puzzle, the primary care physician is able to see the whole scope of the game, call the plays and recalibrate the plan. 

Generally, primary care physicians work with their patients to perform routine checkups, illness evaluations and monitor one’s overall holistic health picture. 

What are the benefits of having a primary care physician? 

Primary care physicians handle a host of different health issues. They work with patients in varying degrees of health, from perfectly well individuals to those with chronic illnesses. A wide-breadth of knowledge and skills allows primary care doctors to diagnose, treat and manage different ailments, disorders and chronic conditions. 

When a primary care doctor is unable to diagnose or treat a health issue, they can connect their patient with a host of specialists that can help. The ultimate benefit of having a primary care doctor that you know and trust is that they act as the trusted supervisor of your physical health and wellbeing. As one ages, it’s beneficial to have a partner that knows your entire medical history, genetic risks and potential red flags.

What do primary care physicians do? 

The main areas of primary care are as follows: 

  • Internal medicine. Internists, or internal medicine physicians, are specialists who use knowledge and clinical skills to diagnose, treat and monitor perplexing or chronic health issues in adult patients. Internists often work with patients suffering from hypertension, diabetes, obesity, heart disease and more. 
  • Pediatrics. A pediatrician specifically focuses on children from infancy to late adolescence. These doctors work with families to evaluate growth patterns, development and child-related illnesses. 
  • Geriatrics. This area of primary care works with senior citizens to keep them healthy and thriving throughout their golden years. Geriatricians study diseases and disorders like alzheimers, dementia and arthritis. 
  • OB/GYN. Obstetrics and gynecology centers on women’s health. OB/GYNs work with women at all stages during their reproductive journey. 
  • Family medicine. Family physicians work with individuals and families. Patients of all ages can utilize the services of a family doctor to treat medical conditions and to stay on top of health maintenance. 
  • Nurse practitioner/physician assistant. NPs and PAs also go through additional schooling and can deal with many common health issues and checkups for individuals, elderly, children and families, depending on their specialty. 
  • Lifestyle Medicine: Lifestyle medicine operates from a holistic health approach that works to treat root causes of health issues. Lifestyle medicine uses evidence-based methods to uncover what is really going on, and also treats symptoms. Lifestyle medicine doctors believe in using nutrition as medicine and other alternative approaches.

Each will provide the following services under the umbrella of primary care: 

  • Wellness screenings. A yearly check-up is one of the best things an individual can do for their overall health and well-being. Primary care physicians conduct wellness screenings for their patients and discuss potential concerns so patients can make lifestyle adjustments, if needed. 
  • Preventative care. A family history of chronic diseases like hypertension, obesity or diabetes can often be prevented with the correct preventative care practices. Your primary care doctor can advise on what practices may work best for you and your specific health condition. 
  • Acute illness/injury care. A PCP can treat anything from common illnesses like the flu, cold or food poisoning to allergic reactions and minor sprains. 
  • Chronic condition treatment and management. Monitoring diabetes, prescribing beta blockers for hypertension and even managing kidney diseases fall under the realm of primary care. These doctors can and do take care of many chronic issues and will send patients to a specialist when the disease, condition or acute injury falls out of their realm of care. 

How to choose a  primary care physician? 

There are a few key considerations when looking for a primary care provider that individuals should take into account when beginning their search. 

  • Consider your current health status. 
    • If chronic conditions already exist, look for a primary care doctor who either specializes in treating your condition or who works with a team of specialists who do. 
    • If you are not currently experiencing health issues but instead want to start scheduling routine wellness checks, you may have more options of primary care doctors available to you. 
  • Find someone you’re comfortable with. 
    • At the very least, you’ll be seeing your primary care provider on a yearly-basis. You want to choose someone who you can work together with in navigating the myriad health-based situations that may arise as you move through different stages in life. Trust and comfortability are non-negotiables when selecting a primary care doctor. 
  • Check your insurance plan. 
    • Different doctors’ offices accept different health insurance plans, so check with your provider to find an in-network doctor. 
    • If you don’t have insurance, ask for rates on different services so you can know what to expect and budget for. If you find a primary care doctor you like, work together to create a health plan you can afford. 
    • You may have to spend a little more time finding a health care provider who is currently accepting new patients with medicare or medicaid. 
  • Ask for recommendations or consult a source you trust. 
    • There are myriad doctors throughout the Orlando area. Ask for recommendations or use UCF’s online patient portal to find a doctor with great ratings. 
    • Visit health care databases to research primary care doctors that work with specialists you need for your health condition. 
  • Check board certification. 
    • Ensure the doctors you are considering are board certified. Physicians must be licensed medical practitioners but they are not required to be board certified. 
    • Board certification means that the primary care doctor has passed a special, specific exam related to their area of expertise. 
  • Call the doctor’s office. 
    • When scheduling appointments, discussing your health care plan, asking health-related questions and the like, you’ll most often be dealing with the office staff. 
    • Consider your interactions with them and how comfortable and easy they make each process. 

Partner with a primary care doctor you trust. 

To achieve optimal health and wellness, patients and their doctors should approach healthcare on a holistic basis. Holistic health takes into account lifestyle practices like leading an active lifestyle, family medical history and potential risk factors. Working with a primary care physician is a great way to facilitate a higher, healthier quality of life. 

Finding a new doctor can be an arduous task. Fortunately, UCF Health does the work for you. All of our primary care doctors within our partnership network are board certified. We offer convenient access to online scheduling, medical records and COVID-19 updates for patients. To book your first appointment with a new doctor, visit our patient portal today.