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If you’re wondering whether you need a primary care provider, the answer is yes. Here’s why.

If you don’t get sick often, you may think you don’t need a primary care provider. The same goes if you don’t have a chronic health condition.

It might seem easier to go to urgent care when you’re sick. But having a primary care physician is crucial to help you stay on top of your health.

“Walk-in and urgent care clinics are a great option when you need care and your doctor isn’t available,” says Jill Sharer, MD, family medicine doctor at Geisinger Medical Center Muncy. “But they aren’t meant to replace a primary care physician.”

Why? Unlike a walk-in clinic that only treats you when you’re sick, a primary care provider helps keep you well.

What is a primary care physician?

A primary care physician, (also called a primary care doctor, primary care provider or PCP), is your main healthcare provider. Think of them as your medical gatekeeper.

They’re the one who can address most of your health concerns. PCPs safeguard your health by: 

  • Providing routine checkups and screenings
  • Caring for chronic conditions
  • Treating common illnesses and injuries
  • Referring you to specialists if needed

There are a few types of primary care providers:

  • Pediatrician: These doctors care for children from newborns through young adults (up to age 18).
  • Family doctor: These doctors provide care for the whole family — children and adults.
  • Internal medicine doctor: These doctors care for adults and can help you manage chronic health conditions.
  • Advanced practitioner: These include physician assistants and nurse practitioners. They also diagnose, treat and manage your care.

What does a primary care physician do?

Your PCP wears a lot of hats. Count on them to:

Keep you healthy with preventive care

You’ll visit your primary care physician at least once a year for a checkup. Depending on your individual health needs, you may need to see them more often. 

During this visit, your PCP can help assess your risk for certain medical conditions. And they can give you advice on how to lower your risk or prevent them altogether. They may order preventive health screenings, like blood work or a mammogram

Your annual checkup is also a great time to discuss any other health concerns you may have. You can also this appointment to talk about any needed vaccines, like your annual flu shot.

“The goal of preventive care is to keep you healthy,” says Dr. Sharer. “With appropriate screenings and tests, we can catch disease early on when treatment is most effective.”

Help you manage chronic conditions

If you have a chronic condition like asthma or diabetes, your PCP is there to help control symptoms. They’ll work with you to build a treatment plan to help you feel your best.

“And if you have a flare-up or develop complications, your PCP can walk you through next steps,” adds Dr. Sharer.

Depending on your specific condition, your PCP may refer you to a specialist. If they do, the two will work together to help keep you well.

“Your PCP will work with your specialists to make sure you’re receiving the appropriate tests and medications. And that your symptoms are controlled,” explains Dr. Sharer.

Monitor test results

If your PCP orders any testing, they’ll review your test or lab results. They’ll discuss results of any labs, imaging or tests you’ve had, like X-rays or blood work. And if necessary, they’ll help guide you through next steps.

Take care of unexpected health issues

Whether it’s a stomach bug, an uncomfortable UTI or a pulled muscle, your PCP is your go-to when you’re sick or injured. Because they know you and your medical history, they’ll avoid prescribing medications you’re allergic or sensitive to. And they can help you get back to 100 percent as soon as possible.

Of course, if your PCP is unavailable and you can’t wait for care, urgent care or walk-in clinics are a great option. And remember to only use the emergency room (ER) when you have a true health emergency.

Point you to the right care at the right time

Not sure where to go for care? Start with your provider.

“If you’re having a health issue and don't know what to do, call your doctor’s office and ask for a nurse,” says Dr. Sharer. “They can assess your issue over the phone and recommend next steps, if necessary.”

Why else?

Having a PCP can deliver other benefits, including:

  • Lower overall healthcare costs
  • Knowledge of your whole health history
  • Keeping you in the driver’s seat with your health
  • Offering timely answers to your health questions

Find a primary care physician who’s right for you

Establishing and building a relationship with a PCP can help keep you healthier in the long run. And getting care from someone who is familiar with you and your history can make things go more smoothly.

We’re here to make better health easier for all. At Geisinger, our primary care providers provide the home you need for your (and your family’s) care. With clinics across Pennsylvania, most offering same-, next-day and virtual video appointments, you can find a provider who’s right for you.

Next steps:  

Learn more about primary care at Geisinger
Taking multiple medicines? Tell your doctor 
Why annual health screenings are important 

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