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What Does a Primary Care Doctor Do?

There are many types of physicians and care providers at University of Utah Health, but the doctor that every patient should have is a primary care provider (PCP).

A primary care provider could be:

  • a physician (MD or DO), or
  • an advanced practice clinician (APC) who is either a physician assistant (PA) or a nurse practitioner (NP).

APCs have advanced training in the same medical areas as our doctors. Sometimes it is easier to get an appointment with a PA or NP. These providers work closely with the doctors in our clinics and offer exceptional care as part of a primary care team.

PCPs are your health care lead, coordinating all the care you receive and seeing the big picture of your overall health. Even if you’re healthy and don’t need care right away, you should still have a primary care provider. 

Your primary care doctor or APC: 

  • knows you and your health history,
  • provides care for many acute and chronic health conditions,
  • refers you to a specialist if needed,
  • coordinates care with other doctors and specialists,
  • reconciles medication to ensure your safety, and
  • manages follow-up care, especially after an emergency room or urgent care visit.

There are several types of PCPs, including those who treat certain patients or age groups. Our primary care doctors include:

  • Family practice – care for patients of all ages, often for an entire family
  • Internal medicine or internists – care for adults 18 and older, especially with multiple or complex health conditions
  • Women’s health – obstetricians and gynecologists (OB/GYNs) and family medicine doctors who care for adult and adolescent women
  • Pediatrics – specialized care for children from birth to young adults
  • Geriatrics – specialized care for older patients

How to Choose a Primary Care Provider

Choosing a primary care doctor is an important decision, because you will see him or her for a lot of your care. Here are some ways you can find the best PCP.

Get A Referral from Someone You Trust

Referrals for primary care doctors can come from a variety of people who you know and trust. Some of the best people to talk to about getting a referral include:

  • friends and family,
  • co-workers,
  • other health professionals you know, such as your dentist or pharmacist, and
  • other physicians you see, such as a specialist you go to for care.

Contact Your Insurance Provider

Insurance providers are another way that many people find a primary care physician. Most insurance plans have a list of physicians who are in-network, which means the care you get will be covered under your insurance policy. While you can go out of network for care, it may cost more and some things may not be covered by your insurance.

Your insurance carrier probably has a list of in-network providers on their website, or you can call them to ask for a list of primary care physicians in your network and in your area.

Find Out What Other Patients Are Saying

There is a lot of information online about doctors, and you can use that information to determine if you think a primary care provider would be a good fit for you. On the University of Utah’s website, physicians and APCs have a page with anonymous information from patient surveys. You can look through these comments to get more insight about how satisfied previous or current patients were with the provider’s communication style, treatment methods, knowledge and qualifications, and more.

Get Care Within the Same Health System if Possible

There are many benefits to getting care from a primary care physician who is part of the University of Utah Health system. We have an integrated and coordinated approach that allows all of our doctors to share electronic health records for patients and work together seamlessly to improve a patient’s care. If you are already seeing a specialist for care within our system or if you may need care from a specialist in the future, you could benefit from having all your doctors and records in the same place.

Hear From a Primary Care Provider

Important Considerations for Choosing a PCP

In addition to the criteria above, there are a few other things to keep in mind when choosing your doctor for family medicine, pediatrics, women’s health, or men’s health.

Clinic Location

Choose a primary care doctor who practices in a location that is convenient. That could be a place close to where you live, or may be a clinic that is close to where you work if you think most of your visits will take place during daytime hours. Some physicians and APCs also practice in multiple clinic locations, so you may be able to find a provider who can see you in clinics near your home and your work.

Clinic Hours

Another important thing to check is the hours a clinic is open to see patients. If you have a hard time getting in during “regular” business hours, finding a clinic that has extended morning, evening, and weekend appointments can fit your lifestyle better. This makes it more likely you will be able to get in to see your doctor not only when you are sick, but also for regular check-ups.  

Appointment Availability

Before choosing a primary care provider, find out if he or she is accepting new patients. If yes, find out how long it usually takes to get a new appointment. Clinics that have a wait time of several weeks or even months to see a doctor might not be the best choice for every patient, especially those who need to see a doctor frequently for urgent or acute care. Find out if the clinic offers same-day or next-day appointments in case you need to get in for an urgent visit when you get sick. Many of our primary care physicians leave slots open on their schedule for same-day or next-day appointments.

Some doctors also see patients virtually through our Virtual Care services. These visits offer convenient hours and same-day availability for non-emergency care through your smartphone, tablet, or computer.

Certifications and Training

Check the doctor’s credentials—not just the type of degree that he or she has, but also whether they stay up-to-date on the latest advances and changes in medicine through board certification or affiliation with groups like:

  • American Academy of Family Physicians
  • American Academy of Pediatrics
  • American College of Physicians
  • American Geriatrics Society

Your Ability to Connect with the Provider

Along with finding a physician or APC who is competent and skilled at what they do, it’s important that you feel comfortable with him or her. During your first visit:

  • Make sure the provider communicates with you in a way you understand.
  • Make sure you feel comfortable asking questions and discussing your health concerns.
  • Find out how you can communicate with the doctor’s office. Many offer electronic communication through an online patient portal to make it easy to ask simple questions, receive lab results, or get medication refills between appointments.
  • Evaluate the staff in the office (like nurses, medical assistants, and receptionists) to ensure you are comfortable with them, since you will talk to them to schedule appointments, help with medication refills, and more.

Accepting New Patients

Primary care doctors and APCs at the University of Utah Health are always accepting new patients. Find a provider on our website or call us today for help selecting the right PCP for you.

Hear From Our Patients

Patients and Primary Care Providers: A Partnership For Life

"Primary care is the heart of medicine,” says Wendy Macey, PA-C, a family medicine primary care provider (PCP). “It’s the bedrock of where health care comes from. Amenthist Gibbs, a patient of Macey’s for nearly a decade describes her partnership with Wendy Macey.

Read About Amenthist & Wendy's Partnership

Wendy Macey, AP-C, and patient Amenthist Gibbs

Hear From Our Specialists