If you’re on the search for a primary care provider (or PCP), an important step is understanding the different kinds of providers. From there, you can see which type is best to help with your needs. To help with your search, we made the list below of the different types of PCPs and how to tell which kind is best for you.
A family practitioner is qualified to care for individuals of all ages, though providers may establish specific age ranges they manage. These providers specialize in broad diagnoses, and the best use long-term, preventative care. A family practitioner may be right for you if you are looking for someone who can take care of you and your family.
Geriatricians specialize in treating older adults, especially those age 65 and older. Because older adults typically need care more often, geriatricians are ready to be very involved with their patients. If you are in this category or are caring for a senior, consider a geriatrician.
Pediatricians specialize in infants, children, and adolescents. If you have a child, taking them to a pediatrician rather than a family doctor is beneficial. Pediatricians understand the emotional, physical, and social development of children, and will consider any health issues your child may be experiencing in light of these factors.
Internists specialize in the internal organs of the body and typically treat adults. If you have or are prone to chronic diseases, for example, diabetes, heart disease, or hypertension, an internist might be the right provider for you.
Ob-gyns specialize in women’s health and prenatal health. Similar to the type of expert knowledge a pediatrician has regarding children’s development, it is important for women to see an ob-gyn regularly, but especially if pregnant. Ob-gyns can also provide referrals to other PCPs.
In addition to the different types of PCPs, there are different titles that a PCP may hold. Below is an explanation of each title and where you may encounter them in the healthcare field. It’s important to remember that even if a healthcare worker has a title different than “doctor”, they still have the training and ability to assist with a multitude of health issues.
Medical Doctors (MDs) have completed four years of medical school and three years of residency. MDs can specialize in many different areas and are capable of offering physical exams, health screenings, referrals, treatment for chronic and temporary conditions, and preventative/wellness health care. MDs may work in hospitals or have their own practices as independent providers.
A doctor of osteopathic medicine receives their education from an osteopathic medical school. DOs study between 7-13 years, depending on their specialties. When treating patients, DOs consider the environmental and social factors in a patient’s life that could affect their health. DOs and MDs are qualified to offer the same services.
A physician’s assistant works in partnership with a doctor and is capable of providing all of the services a doctor may provide. PAs are required to have two years of school, multiple certifications, clinical training, and hundreds of hours of experience in patient care. PAs can provide diagnoses, prescriptions, and physical exams. They can also order testing and document patient history. Just like doctors, PAs can be found in independent practices and hospitals, performing patient visits or medical procedures.
Nurse practitioners are qualified to offer services beyond that of regular nurses. Depending on their specialty, they will have between 3-9 years of education. NPs are qualified to give physical exams, create treatment plans, prescribe treatments, provide referrals, and order testing. Like physicians, NPs can be trained in primary care or in other healthcare specialties. According to their nursing license requirements, which vary by state, NPs may practice unsupervised or under a physician’s guidance.