What is a primary care physician (PCP)?

Dr. John J. Connolly
Healthcare Insurance & Policy Specialist

A primary care provider is a label for a primary care physician, usually an Internist or Family Practitioner. The term is sometimes applied to Licensed Nurse Practitioners who may also provide primary care to patients.

A primary care physician is the main healthcare provider in non-emergency situations. She provides preventive care and teaches healthy lifestyle choices. She identifies and treats common medical conditions, provides continuing care for chronic conditions, and when necessary makes referrals to medical specialists. A primary care physician gives you a trusting, ongoing relationship with one medical professional over time.

A primary care provider (PCP—not to be confused with the recreational street drug!) is your (or your family’s) go-to for ongoing care. If you have a managed care health insurance plan, your PCP is the ringleader who manages and coordinates all of your healthcare needs—including getting referrals to specialists and even visiting you in the hospital to make sure the situation is under control and being managed properly.

A primary care physician is a Doctor of Medicine (MD) or Doctor of Osteopathy (DO) who is trained to evaluate a patient for overall health and to treat illnesses. Family doctors, internists, obstetrician/gynecologists and pediatricians are all primary care physicians. In order to diagnose health problems, a primary care physician may request lab tests or refer a patient to a specialist. Once a patient is under the care of a specialist for diagnosis and treatment, the primary care physician often continues to serve as the coordinator for the patient's care team.

Becoming a primary care physician requires four years of medical school and a three- or four-year residency (working in a hospital or clinic under supervision). Additionally, the primary care physician must obtain a license to practice medicine and is required by some states to complete continuing medical education (CME) credits. Primary care physicians who are board certified must also pass periodic exams that test their knowledge.

Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)

A primary care physician is your main doctor. He or she tends to your everyday healthcare needs and is often the gatekeeper in referring you to other physicians when you need a specialist, like a dermatologist, psychiatrist or a special surgeon (of course, all surgeons think they're special).

Primary care physicians typically include family practitioners, who treat patients of all ages; general practitioners, who may treat children, adults or both; internists, who treat adults; doctors of osteopathic medicine (DOs); obstetricians/gynecologists, who treat women; and pediatricians, who treat infants, children and teenagers.

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A primary care physician (PCP) typically specializes in family medicine, internal medicine or general practice. Having a PCP who can coordinate people's care is vital to their good health.

Trinity Health is a Catholic health care organization that acts in accordance with the Catholic tradition and does not condone or support all practices covered in this site. In case of emergency call 911. This site is educational and not a substitute for professional medical advice, always seek the advice of a qualified health care provider.

Dr. Ryan G. Aronin, MD

A primary care physician is a healthcare provider that you see for annual exams, sick visits and preoperative evaluations. This person uses evidence-based medicine practices to keep you up to date on medical guidelines. A PCP is a member of your personal network. You should consider your PCP as a family member and someone within your trusted circle.

Dr. Stuart A. Linder, MD
Plastic Surgeon

A primary care physician is a general internist. This is a doctor that takes care of your general health annually. The are the gatekeepers to the specialists (cardiologists, pumonologist, infectious disease, hematologists, surgeons, etc.). This physician should maintain your entire medical and surgical history file.

A primary care physician can be one of your most valuable assets when it comes to your health. He or she is someone who is there not only to take care of the small illnesses and to make sure that your immunizations are up-to-date, but also to provide early detection for chronic diseases such as high blood pressure, obesity, high cholesterol and diabetes, as well as to coordinate your cancer screenings.

A primary care physician is a general doctor who helps manage an adult’s overall healthcare. Primary care physicians take care of new health problems, chronic diseases, and ensure all preventive healthcare is up to date. They also serve as a central point for coordinating specialist care like sending their patients to an orthopedic surgeon, a dermatologist, or even a cardiologist.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.