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About Primary care doctors

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What is Primary Care?

Primary care is a term used to categorize several medical practices that provide continuous and comprehensive care to patients of all ages, genders, and backgrounds. Primary care providers have the clinical experience and training to diagnose, treat, and help prevent a wide range of medical issues.

A primary care provider (PCP) is a doctor or clinician who offers primary care services. PCPs are usually a patient's first point of contact, meaning you will likely see a PCP before seeing any other doctor in the healthcare system.

You might see a primary care provider for:

  • Acute illnesses (like the cold and flu)
  • Infections (like a UTI or ear infection)
  • Skin conditions (like skin rash or moles)
  • Type 1 or type 2 diabetes
  • Blood pressure management
  • High cholesterol
  • Non-emergency injuries (like sprains)
  • Developmental disorders (like cerebral palsy)
  • Sexual dysfunction (like infertility or ED)
  • Mental health conditions (like depression or anxiety)

Primary care providers tailor treatment to their patient’s individual needs. Patients may continue to see the same primary care provider for years because this long-term relationship allows the PCP a more comprehensive and contextualized understanding of a particular patient’s health. If you don’t have a prior relationship, a primary care provider will likely conduct a complete physical exam during one of your first visits. A physical exam–sometimes called a “full physical”--is a series of tests and procedures that offer a broad look at a patient’s overall health and wellness.

Some standard tests performed by doctors during a full physical include:

Vital sign checks: Doctors will often check blood pressure, heart rate, and respiratory rate to check for general wellness and any symptoms of heart disease or high blood pressure. Doctors will also use a stethoscope to help check for abnormalities in breath, heart murmurs, or irregular heartbeats, as these can be signs of health problems.

Visual: Doctors will check your height and weight to calculate your Body Mass Index, a crucial part of screening for obesity. Doctors will visually look for any problems with your skin and unusual marks/ growths on the body, as these might be signs of an underlying condition. The eyes, ears, nose, and throat will also be observed to check for wellness.

Percussion tests: Doctors will gently tap and press various parts of the body (like the abdomen) to check for unusual lumps, irregular fluid buildup, and organ location.

Blood tests: Doctors may draw blood during an annual physical exam to check cholesterol levels and blood count, which are used to screen for heart disease and stroke. If you may be at risk for diabetes, blood sugar levels may be tested as well.

Urinalysis: Doctors may request a urine sample to test for kidney and liver disease or diabetes. Urinalysis consists of checking the color and content of urine. If urine is cloudy, for example, it may be a sign of a urinary tract infection. Large amounts of protein in urine might indicate a kidney condition. Urinalysis is a crucial preventative tool to help doctors catch certain conditions before they become health problems.

Cancer screening tests: These tests are often done by touch to look for abnormal lumps or growths in the body. Doctors will check lymph nodes, thyroid, and skin for signs of cancer. Men often have their testicles and prostate checked to screen for cancers or irregularities. Women may have a breast exam performed to screen for breast cancer and a pelvic exam and pap smear to screen for cervical cancer and sexually transmitted diseases.

These tests help providers understand your health. They gather information about your medical history and your family history. For example, certain conditions can be inherited through your genealogy (like high cholesterol). The more a primary care provider knows about your family’s health and your personal history, the more informed they are about diagnosing and preventing certain conditions in you.

In addition to full physical exams, you may see a primary care provider for services such as:

  • Routine check-ups
  • Lab testing (blood and urinalysis)
  • Injury treatment (applying splints, casts, slings, etc…)
  • Medication prescription
  • Medical advice for general wellness
  • Preventative care strategies (like dietary adjustments and lifestyle changes)
  • Cancer screening

In sum, primary care providers play a crucial role in diagnosing, managing, and preventing many medical concerns. If a PCP determines that you need specialized care, they will offer a referral to a specialist to help you get the care you need.

What is the difference between a primary care provider and a specialist?

A primary care provider has extensive training and clinical experience to diagnose and treat various medical conditions. This includes, but is not limited to, acute illnesses, injuries, mental health concerns, and sexual dysfunction. Some conditions require specific treatment from a clinician with advanced training in a particular area. These clinicians are known as specialists.

Some examples of specialists include:

  • ENTs (Ear, Nose & Throat doctors)
  • Endocrinologists (doctors who specialize in conditions related to glands and the hormones they produce)
  • Oncologists (doctors who specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of cancers)
  • Orthopedics (doctors who treat issues related to the muscles and skeleton)
  • Dermatologists (doctors who treat issues related to skin, hair, and nails)
  • Podiatrists (doctors who treat issues related to the foot, ankle, and lower leg)
  • Neurologists (doctors who treat issues related to the brain, spinal cord, nerves, and more)
  • Mental health care providers (such as therapists, psychiatrists, and counselors)

In many cases, you can’t even see a specialist without a referral from a primary care provider. This is what is meant by PCPs being a “first point of contact.” You will generally see a PCP before they refer you to a specialist if needed.

If you need to see a specialist or receive specialized care, your primary care provider will likely act as your main contact for your healthcare team. For example, specific prescriptions or recommendations may be given through your PCP, or you might receive lab test results through them.

What if I’m experiencing a medical emergency?

Primary care providers do not treat urgent medical emergencies. PCP facilities do not offer walk-in services, meaning you will likely need to schedule an appointment several days in advance. This means that you may not get adequate care for an urgent concern.

Some signs and symptoms of a medical emergency include:

  • Unexplained bleeding
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Large open wounds
  • Broken bones
  • Head injuries
  • Chest pain
  • Seizures that last over 1 minute

These reactions require immediate treatment. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, go to the nearest emergency room immediately.

If you are experiencing an illness or injury that requires attention but does not constitute an emergency, you should go to an urgent care clinic. Urgent care is the middle ground between primary care and an emergency room.

Urgent care clinics are often walk-ins, meaning you don’t schedule an appointment in advance. For example, you might go to an urgent care clinic for a mild-to-moderate burn, a sprain, or signs of an infection. As their title suggests, urgent care clinics provide this care right away. A primary care provider is not usually available for walk-ins, meaning they can’t treat a condition that is occurring right now.

What should I expect from my first primary care appointment?

The first visit with a primary care provider will be centered around gathering pertinent information regarding your medical and family history. A primary care provider wants as complete a picture of your medical background and risk factor as possible to offer care strategies that fit your needs.

During this first visit, you will be asked about your family’s history with health. Give your doctor an account of the illnesses or conditions that run in your family.

Examples of conditions that run in families include:

  • High cholesterol
  • High blood pressure
  • Obesity
  • Mental health disorders (like depression, bipolar, or anxiety)
  • Asthma
  • Osteoporosis
  • Arthritis
  • Certain cancers
  • Alcoholism/ substance abuse disorders

You should also give your primary care provider information about past illnesses or surgeries, lifestyle habits such as smoking or alcohol consumption, medications (both prescription and over-the-counter), allergies, and reactions to certain drugs.

It’s essential that you are honest with your primary care provider about your lifestyle habits. This includes your diet, exercise habits, and your use of drugs, alcohol, and tobacco. A recent study found that 47% of adults lie to their doctor. While we may be embarrassed by our habits or don’t want to be “judged” by our doctor, lying can keep your doctor from offering you the specific treatment you need. Honesty will help your doctor give you the most comprehensive care possible.

In addition to giving your PCP a family and personal health history, you will likely undergo a physical examination to be screened for any underlying health concerns. This first physical may include some or all of the tests listed in the above section.

With a broad view of your overall physical fitness and internal health, your primary care provider can offer diagnostic, rehabilitative, and preventative care for various medical concerns. Think about this first visit as a “get-to-know-you” between you, your health, and your doctor.

How do I get primary care services in Dallas?

If you’re looking for a routine check-up or are experiencing symptoms related to a non-urgent medical condition in Dallas, Sesame has you covered. You can find convenient and affordable in-person and telehealth (video) primary care services on Sesame with licensed health care providers in your area.

To book a visit:

  • Search “Primary Care” in Sesame’s search bar
  • Browse the list of available providers near you
  • Choose between video and in-person services
  • Pick a time that works best for your schedule
  • Book your visit!

Yep, it’s that easy. Not sure if you need to see a doctor in-person or not? We recommend in-person visits for routine check-ups, chronic condition consultations, and lab testing. There are just some things that can’t be done over video. Video visits address symptoms, discuss prescriptions and screen for certain medical conditions.

Primary care is the cornerstone of health care. Establishing a relationship with a trusted provider can help you get individualized care tailored to your medical needs and personal history. Don’t wait to get the personal care you need. Book a primary care visit with the best doctors in your area and save up to 60% on your appointment.

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