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About Primary care doctors
Primary Care Basics
Primary care is the cornerstone of healthcare. The term “primary care” describes an entire sector of medicine that acts as the initial point of contact between a patient and the healthcare system. In other words, you usually go see a primary care provider for any medical issues you are having before you go see any other kind of health care provider. Primary care provides diagnostic, preventative, therapeutic, rehabilitative, and palliative care for patients of all ages. Primary care is sometimes used interchangeably with “internal medicine” or “family medicine” even though these terms mean slightly different things.
A primary care provider is more than just a doctor who performs your routine check-up (although these are very important). Primary care providers (also known as PCPs) perform a wide range of medical services to diagnose and treat patients.
You may see a primary care provider if you are dealing with conditions such as:
- Cold, flu, and other acute illnesses
- UTIs and other vaginal infections
- Rashes, warts, moles, and other skin conditions
- Erectile dysfunction (ED) or premature ejaculation (PE)
- Diabetes (Type 1 and Type 2)
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Developmental disorders
- Depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions
Primary care providers can also help with orthopedic injuries like sprains, tears, and broken bones.
Primary care providers will work with patients on an individual level to help tailor care to the patient’s needs. They will get a detailed understanding of a patient’s medical and family history to better understand certain conditions that a patient might be at increased risk for. For instance, if a primary care provider knows that you have a family history of heart disease, they may recommend regular blood pressure and cholesterol tests to ensure that you aren’t exhibiting signs of high blood pressure (hypertension) or high cholesterol.
Specific services offered by primary care providers include:
- Annual physical exams
- 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
While primary care providers are pretty close to being superheroes, even they can’t treat everything. If you are experiencing the signs of a condition that requires specialized care, primary care providers will offer a referral to a specialist to help you get the care you need. For instance, if they suspect that a certain mole or spot on your skin is cancerous, they will refer you to a dermatologist (a doctor who specializes in skin health) for follow-up testing. In many instances, you can’t even see a specialist without the referral of a primary care doctor.
Some examples of specialists include:
- ENTs (Ear, Nose & Throat doctors)
- OB/GYNs (doctors who treat issues related to women's health)
- Pediatricians (doctors who manage care for children)
- 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)
Primary care providers address the everyday health care needs of patients of all ages. They work with patients of all ages, sexes, and medical statuses. If additional treatment or care is needed, these providers will often as the coordinator of the patient’s health care team.
Primary Care vs. Family Medicine vs. Internal Medicine
Primary care is an umbrella term to describe medical care that treats a wide range of health-related issues. Primary care providers (PCPs) are usually the first doctors a patient will see if they aren't feeling well or are looking for a referral. Primary care is divided into two forms of health services: family medicine and internal medicine.
Family medicine: Family medicine refers to healthcare provided for the whole family. A family medicine doctor is a primary care provider who mostly offers preventive care like immunizations, checkups, and medical advice. Doctors trained in family practice can treat patients of all ages from pediatrics to geriatrics, so they often act as the healthcare provider for whole families.
Internal medicine: An internal medicine doctor (or internist) provides primary medical care for adults only. Internal medicine doctors diagnose and treat a wide range of health conditions for adult patients and provide medical advice to improve general wellness. Internal medicine doctors will offer referrals to a specialist if a patient is dealing with a specific condition.
Other types of primary care providers include:
Pediatricians: Pediatrics is a branch of internal medicine that focuses on children's health. A pediatrician is a primary care doctor for children that oversees a child's mental, behavioral, and physical well-being from birth until the age of 18.
Obstetrics/ Gynecologists (OB/GYNs): Obstetrics (the OB of OB/GYN) deals with the care during pre-conception, pregnancy, childbirth, and post-delivery, while gynecology (the GYN or OB/GYN) deals with the care of all women's health issues. So while obstetrics deals specifically with prenatal care, pregnancy, high-risk pregnancies, and other medical needs of pregnant women (or women soon to become pregnant), gynecology deals with women's health and wellness more generally.
While all primary care providers can diagnose medical conditions, order prescriptions, and offer referrals, there are branches within the general field of primary care that specialize in specific types of care. A 40-year-old man probably shouldn’t see a pediatrician for cancer screenings and preventative care. Nor should you take your child to your OB/GYN for a sore throat. When in doubt, talk to an internal or family medicine provider first to determine the best path toward the treatment you need.
The Importance of a Physical Exam
Annual full physical examinations are a key part of helping your primary care physician keep track of your wellness and are a crucial preventive care measure. Routine checkups are easy, relatively non-invasive, and a very helpful picture of your general health. Tests and procedures done during annual physical exams may vary based on age, gender, and medical history, but it is recommended that an adult gets a full physical exam every year to screen for cancer and test for conditions such as diabetes and heart disease.
Annual physical exams do not prevent disease or health conditions but should be considered a part of a healthy lifestyle, along with regular exercise, a healthy diet, and sleep. Having a routine checkup with your primary care physician once a year can help catch abnormalities or signs of disease before they become serious.
Urgent Care vs. Primary Care
Both urgent care and primary care clinics are staffed by licensed health care providers who can diagnose and treat a wide range of medical conditions and injuries. There are some differences, though, between these care centers.
A primary care provider acts as the initial contact between a patient and the rest of the health care system. That means they work with a patient on an individual level to maintain their wellness and diagnose any conditions that may be affecting them. If needed, they will refer the patient to a specialist to receive specific testing and treatment.
An urgent care provider is also able to diagnose and treat conditions but is more focused on providing care in a time-sensitive manner. Urgent care clinics are often walk-in, meaning that you don’t schedule an appointment in advance. You might go to an urgent care clinic for a mild-to-moderate burn, a sprain, or signs of an infection. Urgent care clinics, as their title suggests, 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.
Both primary care and urgent care providers are highly trained and experienced. Talk to your primary care provider about routine check-ups, wellness maintenance, and non-emergency medical conditions. Talk to an urgent care provider if you are experiencing an injury or affliction that needs treatment immediately. If you are experiencing the signs of a medical emergency, go to your nearest emergency room.
Some signs of a medical emergency include:
- Unexplained bleeding
- Difficulty breathing
- Large open wounds
- Broken bones
- Head injuries
- Chest pain
- Seizures that last over 1 minute
How to Get Primary Care in Los Angeles on Sesame
If you’re looking for a routine check-up or are experiencing symptoms related to a non-urgent medical condition in Los Angeles, 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 are used to address symptoms, discuss prescriptions, and screen for certain medical conditions.
Primary care is the cornerstone of health care. Establishing a relationship with a provider you trust 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.