More than just a checkup: What Does a Primary Care Physician Do?

September 3, 2021

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Your primary care provider (PCP) can play a valuable role in your health.

You probably see your primary care doctor, nurse practitioner or physician assistant for an annual physical. But your PCP’s scope of care goes far beyond a simple checkup.

“Your primary care provider can be considered your medical home” — that is, your central point of contact for everything related to your health, says Willow Hubbard, a certified physician assistant at Adventist Health Medical Office in Mendocino Coast. “We can offer preventative care and recommend healthy choices to reduce risk of disease.”

Preventative care

Your primary care physician can identify risk factors for diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and some cancers. “Screenings are extremely important right now, more than ever,” says Andrea McCullough, MD, a family medicine physician at Redwood Medical Clinic in Willits. “Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, many people put off the screenings they were due for, which could potentially result in a rise in disease and even risk of premature death down the road.” She recommends catching up on missed screenings, a vital tool in pinpointing health concerns and making a plan for early intervention.

Specialist referrals

If you think you may need to see a specialist, Hubbard recommends consulting your primary care provider to get a referral. “We can guide you toward the right specialist for your needs and even order labs so you can go over the results at your appointment,” she says. “A primary provider will review results from any specialist, so you’ll have a clear picture of your total health situation.”

Full-spectrum care

Whether you’re feeling sick, concerned about a symptom, or looking for advice, think of your primary care provider as a go-to resource. Because you’ll have a relationship, your PCP can tailor your care to your needs at each visit. “I like to take the time to listen to each person’s needs and understand their priorities,” Hubbard says. “I often schedule follow-up visits so we can check in after labs or dive deeper on concerns.”

Quality care for your mind

If you are concerned about your mental health or need advice on how to find a counselor, your primary care provider can be a trusted resource. “We can provide frequent visits so you have someone to talk to as you are waiting to connect with a therapist,” says Sara Martin, MD, a family medicine physician at Adventist Health Ukiah Valley. “We can also talk about evidence-based approaches to treating depression and anxiety symptoms, like exercise, meditation and yoga.”