What is primary care?

Simply put, primary care is your entry into medical care. More importantly, primary care is your long term partner in maintaining your optimal health, for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, from this day forward until death do us part – indeed your medical spouse.

Primary care is care provided by physicians specifically trained for and skilled in comprehensive first contact and continuing care for persons with any undiagnosed sign, symptom, or health concern. Primary care includes health promotion, disease prevention, health maintenance, counseling, patient education, as well as diagnosis and treatment of acute and chronic illnesses.
Primary care physicians devote the majority of their practice to providing primary care services to a defined population of patients. The style of primary care practice is such that the personal primary care physician serves as the entry point for substantially all of the patient’s medical and health care needs – not limited by problem origin, organ system, or diagnosis. Primary care physicians are advocates for the patient in coordinating the use of the entire health care system to benefit the patient.

Source: American Academy of Family Physicians
Primary Care

Primary care physicians (PCPs) are here to help you in many ways. PCPs help you maintain your preventative care so that you can prevent illness or catch it early. PCPs are trained to diagnose – is that cough really something to worry about? PCPs are trained to treat illness, both long term issues like diabetes and acute issues like the flu. PCPs help you navigate the health care system if the medical care you need is beyond primary care capabilities. PCPs coordinate the care you receive from multiple providers if your condition warrants it.

And, if the system works like it should, and you have a primary care provider who knows you and sees you on a regular basis, primary care physicians have many less well-defined job descriptions. Primary care physicians can help you recognize interrelated symptoms that you wouldn’t have felt were connected. PCPs know you, your families, celebrate your successes and mourn your losses. PCPs know your history and health and can recognize more subtle changes than might have otherwise been unapparent.

Finding the right primary care physician can be as difficult as finding the right spouse (why is it so hard to find someone who cooks, cleans, does windows and is independently wealthy?), but equally as important. The right fit could be a life saver.

Written by M. Mitchell, M.D.


  1. says

    Love it! I’ve just returned to the US from a long stint in Australia. The GP shrgoate is acute there, and that is a place where general practice has always been the norm. I had to explain to people that in the US, in a big city one simply did not see any family practitioners. In Aus, for various reasons I’d be happy to elaborate on, the number of medical students is disproportionately female. While medical school is not free in Australia, the cost is manageable (usually about $50-60,000 in total for a 6 year course). Many women see GP practice as a pleasant, well paid part-time job. It is quite common for a woman to enter GP practice, become pregnant, take six months off (probably not paid, depending on the state) and then return to practice for two half days a week. While most of them up their hours once children are school age, they still do not usually practice full time. The GP practice I attended there had 16 doctors in partnership; on any given day no more than 3 were in the office. As a patient, I also wondered about the level of experience these doctors had. How can you build it up when you aren’t there? My son was diagnosed with scarlet fever by a doctor who was about 30 and had never seen it before. She couldn’t wipe the grin off her face as she told me it was scarlet fever, and had to pull a book off the shelf to answer my questions (eg, was the rash itchy). And, in case you haven’t figured it out by deducing that it’s normally the mother who takes a pre-schooler to the doctor, I am a woman!

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