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What Is Primary Care?

Primary Care

True or false?: The same doctor can treat your depression, remove a suspicious mole, and help plan the timing of your next baby.*

When you hear the words primary care, what do you think?

"We want people to know there's a doctor who specializes in caring for the whole person," explains Jennifer Leiser, MD, a family medicine physician at University of Utah Health Care.

What is Primary Care?

Most of us know that primary care doctors treat aches, pains, and colds. But these are just a few areas primary care doctors treat in a broad field of expertise. Primary care doctors:

  • care for most diseases except very uncommon or unusual ones;
  • offer counseling;
  • and monitor your health against your lifestyle goals over time, something called health promotion.

They also educate patients about preventing chronic diseases, like limiting sugar if you have prediabetes or increasing your physical activity if you're at higher risk for heart disease.

What About Specialists?

If you do need specialized care, primary care doctors integrate your treatment with a specialist and make sure any additional care you need gets coordinated across other doctors and the larger health system.

"Primary care providers can provide much of the health care patients need. This includes initiating an evaluation and managing many complex medical conditions and determining when patients need a specialist referral," explains Kirsten Stoesser, MD, a family medicine physician at University of Utah Health Care.

Different Types of Primary Care Providers

Did you know that primary care has four different areas?

  • Family medicine cares for your whole family, from newborns to the elderly, of any age or gender.
  • Internal medicine provides primary care to adults.
  • Pediatrics provides primary care to infants, children, and adolescents.
  • Obstetrics and gynecology (OB/GYN) cares for women's reproductive health and offers family planning services.

Some family medicine providers can even treat more specialized areas of health, including:

  • sports medicine,
  • eating disorders,
  • hepatitis C,
  • LGBTQ health care (including care for transgender individuals),
  • and infertility.

Low-Cost, Preventive Care

How do you stay your healthiest self? A major factor is visiting your doctor often enough to detect—and learn about tools to prevent—chronic illnesses like high blood pressure and obesity.

Primary care is usually less expensive than specialty care too. According to the Council on Graduate Medical Education, patients who can easily access a primary care doctor will spend less money on health services and have better health.

"Because primary care doctors have the tools to treat a wide range of conditions, long-term, chronic health problems like high blood pressure and diabetes could be decreased or prevented if patients visited their primary care doctor more often," adds Stoesser.

Primary care saves patients money, optimizes health care delivery, and makes sure you stay well in both sickness and health. Pretty cool, right?

*True. Primary care providers treat all these things.