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clinical care

Types of Primary Care Providers

It helps to understand what each kind of provider can do.

Primary care providers (PCP) provide health care on an as-needed and long-term basis for people in early adulthood through older age. PCPs are often the first to diagnose and treat medical problems that affect adults. They also identify risk factors for disease and offer advice on prevention. General services that primary care clinicians provide include:

  • perform age-appropriate periodic wellness assessments

  • prescribe medications

  • treat illnesses and injuries

  • screen for common health issues based on personal risk factors and family history

  • manage acute and chronic conditions

  • order diagnostic tests

  • make referrals to specialty clinicians when necessary

A PCP may be one of the following types:

  • Medical Doctors (MD) or Doctors of Osteopathy (DO) may also be called Internal Medicine Doctors.

  • Nurse Practitioners (NP) provide primary care independently or in conjunction with/under supervision of a physician (varies depending on state regulations).

  • Family Practice physicians can treat all age ranges within a family, asservices include pediatric and OB/GYN care.

Supporting health care professionals that provide care under the supervision of MD, DO, or NP:

  • Physician Assistants (PA) are licensed medical professionals that provide many of the same services as primary care physicians. PAs can examine, diagnose, and treat patients and are able to assist in minor procedures. PAs are also able to prescribe medications.

  • Nurses (RN, LPN, APRN) assist PCPs by delivering specified types of patient care and implementing treatment plans such as administering medications. Nurses are unable to prescribe medications.

  • Medical Assistant (MA) complete both administrative and clinical tasks in hospitals, physician offices, and other healthcare facilities. Their tasks can include taking medicals histories, preparing patients for examinations, and explaining procedures.

More information is available from the American Academy of Family Physicians.