How do you know when you should see a primary care provider (PCP) or a specialist? Although both are dedicated to keeping you healthy, these health care providers offer different services. Who you should see depends on the health issue and your medical history.
What is the role of primary care providers?
Primary care providers span a number of board-certified specialties that include internal medicine, family medicine and pediatrics. They may be physicians or nurse practitioners.
Your PCP is the starting point in your health care journey. Not only do they know you and your health history, they have the medical expertise to diagnose and treat a wide variety of illnesses and conditions.
PCPS are also in the best position to coordinate your care and will have a trusted network of specialists they have successfully worked with to help take care of their patients.
What is a specialist?
Specialists are physicians with training within a specific discipline. They focus on the diagnosis and treatment of certain types of diseases and conditions (such as cancer), or illnesses that affect a particular system within the body. Some examples of specialists include:
- An oncologist, who specializes in treating cancer.
- A cardiologist, who specializes in heart conditions.
- A gastroenterologist, who specializes in disorders of the digestive organs.
- A psychiatrist, who specializes in diagnosing and treating mental illnesses.
- An endocrinologist, who treats conditions such as diabetes, thyroid disorders or infertility.
- An ENT (ear, nose and throat doctor), who treats hearing impairment, sinus issues and swallowing problems.
- A rheumatologist, who specializes in autoimmune, musculoskeletal and inflammatory diseases such as arthritis and lupus.
You may need a referral from your primary care provider before you see a specialist. However, even if a referral is not required, it’s a good idea to keep your PCP informed so they can coordinate the details of your care with the specialist and work together to ensure you get the care you need.