What is primary health care?
Primary health care is the type of care provided by a primary care doctor, most often within a primary care practice, or in an in-patient, critical care, long-term care, home care, or day care setting. Types of primary health care may include wellness and prevention measures such as screenings and immunizations, acute Illness and injury care, as well as management of long-term health conditions like diabetes and heart disease.
Specifically, a primary care general practice will most often include wellness and prevention screenings for:
- High blood pressure and other heart disease risk factors
- High cholesterol
- Diabetes mellitus
- Breast, cervical, prostate, and colorectal cancers
- Developmental disorders
- Sexually transmitted diseases
- Signs of domestic violence
In addition, primary care may include diagnosis and treatment of symptoms related to acute illnesses and injuries. For example, a primary care doctor will generally be able to:
- Perform tests to diagnose a condition
- Prescribe medications for a condition
- Check for interactions with other medications a patient is currently taking
- Conduct EKGs (electrocardiograms) to evaluate the heart
- Conduct a spirometry test to asses lung function
- Treat acute conditions like asthma, migraines, and urinary tract infections
- Provide wound care
- Manage fever or dehydration
- Provide preliminary tests to check for broken bones
- Provide a splint, cast, or brace for certain types of injuries
- Treat minor skin infections, bites, and rashes
- Treat muscle strains and sprains
- Recommend a specialist or mental health resources, when appropriate
A primary care general practice also typically covers treatment of long-term, chronic conditions, such as:
- Coordinating care with specialists
- Prescribing and adjusting medications as needed
- Recommending diet, exercise, and other self-care measures
- Monitoring for drug interactions in those being treated for multiple conditions
- Performing lab tests to monitor progress
What is a primary care doctor?
A primary care doctor is typically trained in either family medicine, internal medicine, pediatrics, or geriatrics. In some cases, a primary care practice may offer treatment by a physician assistant (PA) or nurse practitioner (NP), usually supervised by a primary care doctor within the practice.
A family medicine doctor typically treats patients of all ages, including children, whereas internists practice internal medicine and, for the most part, treat only adults. Internists may have received training in a number of different fields, including endocrinology, geriatrics, neurology, orthopedics, rheumatology, and rehabilitation.
Pediatricians focus on the treatment of conditions that affect infants, children, and teenagers, sometimes up to the age of 21. Geriatricians treat older adults, focusing on issues such as balance problems, dementia, and insomnia.
In most cases, primary care doctors will consult with specialists on behalf of their patients and, when appropriate, coordinate the care their patients receive from those specialists.
What is the advantage of primary care for patients?
The broad level of expertise provided by most primary care doctors gives patients a clear advantage. A 2019 study by JAMA showed that those people in the United States who received primary care had an overall better healthcare experience. Specifically, these patients were more likely to have received a high value of care, which included cancer screenings, diagnostic care, preventive care, and diabetes care.
In fact, the primary care doctor’s broad view of a patient’s entire health situation, coupled with the comprehensive care they provide, tend to make this type of doctor a patient’s best first step for addressing a wide range of healthcare needs.
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