A Primary Care Physician (PCP), or Primary Care Provider, is a health care professional who practices general medicine. pcps are our first stop for medical care. Most PCPS are physicians, but nurse practitioners and physician assistants can sometimes be PCPS as well.
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A pcp is the person your child should see for a routine checkup or non-emergency medical care. If your child has a low-grade fever, cough or rash, or is short of breath or nauseated, a PCP can usually find the cause and decide what to do about it.
pcps can usually treat conditions in their own offices. if they can’t, they can refer you and your child to a trusted specialist. If your child needs ongoing treatment or is admitted to a hospital, the PCP can oversee the care, help you make treatment decisions, or refer you to other specialists if needed.
One of the most important jobs of a pcp is to help prevent children from getting sick in the first place. this is called preventive care.
The best preventive care means:
- build a relationship with a pcp you like and trust
- take your child for scheduled checkups and shots
- follow your pcp’s advice to establish a healthy lifestyle, control your weight, and get the right amount of exercise
- Family doctors, or family doctors, see patients of all ages, from infants, children, and adolescents to adults and the elderly.
- Pediatricians care for infants, children, and adolescents.
- Internists, or internal medicine doctors, see adults, but some see patients who are in their teens.
- adolescent medicine specialists are pediatricians or internists who have additional training in the care of adolescents.
- Combined Pediatric Internal Medicine Specialists have training in both pediatrics and internal medicine.
- obstetricians-gynecologists (OB-GYNs) specialize in women’s health problems and sometimes are PCPs for girls who have started menstruating.
- Nurse Practitioners or Physician Assistants are sometimes the main providers a child or teen sees in a doctor’s office.
- high fever
- ear pain
- belly pain
- a headache that won’t go away
- a rash
- mild wheezing
- a persistent cough
- has difficulty breathing or is short of breath
- has a change in mental status, such as suddenly having an unusual dream or trouble waking up, disorientation, or confusion
- You have a cut on your skin that won’t stop bleeding
- has a stiff neck along with a fever
- has a fast heartbeat that won’t slow down
- takes a poisonous substance or too much medicine
- has had more than one minor head injury
- do they seem open and friendly or more formal?
- Do you prefer to treat conditions aggressively or take a “wait and see” approach?
- try to handle things in the office or refer most patients to specialists?
what are the types of pcps?
Different types of PCPS treat children and adolescents. which one is right for you depends on your family’s needs:
when to go to the pcp
Call your PCP first if you have any non-emergency health-related questions or concerns. These may include:
when in doubt, call the pcp. even if the pcp is not available, someone else in the office can talk with you and decide if your child should go to the emergency room. On weekends and at night, PCPS often have answering services that allow them to contact you if you leave a message.
when to go to an emergency room
go to the emergency room if your child:
how can i find a pcp?
To find a pcp, start by asking yourself what matters most to you. For example, you’ll want the PCP’s office to accept your health insurance and, ideally, be close to your home. Also consider how helpful and friendly the staff is, how easy it is to contact the PCP, and whether office hours fit your schedule.
Ask for recommendations from friends, neighbors, relatives, and doctors or nurses you already know and trust.
when you have a list of candidates, learn what you can about the pcp. for example, the pcp:
inquire about any additional services. Some offices also have specialists, mental health providers, dieticians, lactation consultants, and social workers on site. it is convenient to have all these services under one roof.
Your health insurance plan may have a directory of preferred pcps, and many practices will allow you to meet with a provider to see if you are a good fit. And while it’s easier to stay with one provider, if you think your child isn’t getting the right level of care, you can choose another PCP.