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What are the different types of primary care providers?

Primary care can come from physicians and, in some instances, nurse practitioners or physician assistants working either in conjunction with physicians or on their own (depending on the scope of practice allowed by your state’s practice acts).

Your Primary Care Physician (known commonly as a ‘PCP’) may be a Doctor of Medicine (MD), a Doctor of Osteopathy (DO), or Holistic medical doctor (either a MD or DO) that is a member of the American Holistic Medical Association.  Or any of the above may choose to manage their practice and patients as Functional Medicine practitioners.  MD’s and DO’s are considered equivalent in scope of practice in all 50 states, and either may serve as either PCP’s or specialists.

Any of these PCP’s may be trained as Family Medicine practitioners, or in the specialties of Pediatrics, Obstetrics and Gynecology, or Internal Medicine.


Doctors of Medicine (MD’s)

Doctors of Medicine (MD’s) are allopathic physicians, meaning that they believe primarily in medicine as a biological science and are inclined to approach medical conditions with the use of pharmacological agents (prescription drugs) or physical interventions to treat or suppress symptoms. Allopathic medicine is often referred to as Western Medicine in that it has been considered ‘conventional’ in Western Europe and the United States since the 19th century.

More about MD’s and physicians overall may be found at .


Doctors of Osteopathy (DO’s)

Doctors of Osteopathy (DO’s) are osteopathic physicians, who focus on the interrelationship between the structure and function of the body, and recognize the body’s ability to heal itself.

DO’s see their role as facilitating that self-healing process, principally by the skilled practice of manual and manipulative therapies. They endeavor to combine current medical technology with seeing their patients as whole persons, and listening carefully to their patient’s descriptions of their health status. They consider themselves to be more ‘hands on’ than MD’s.

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Family Medicine

Family Medicine physicians treat all patients of all ages. This is the quintessential doc who used to make house calls in the olden days.

Considerations: they are the most general of doctors – they have to know a little bit about an incredibly wide variety of medical topics. One family medicine doc can, however, treat your whole family; especially if your family has no unusual medical conditions.

Read more about Family Medicine doctors at .



Pediatricians focus exclusively on children from birth to full physical maturity. They specialize in the sense that they understand how children’s bodies are changing as they grow.

Considerations; a good choice for boys through puberty, and for girls until their first mensus.

Details at .



Obstetrician/Gynecologists focus exclusively on what makes the female body unique.

Classic thinking was that the male and female bodies were differentiated only by their reproductive organs, but more recent thinking is that they have far less in common. In addition to being trained as primary care doctors, they also do surgical procedures such as Cesarean sections, hysterectomies, bladder lifts.

Considerations; a good choice for all women from their first menstrual cycle on, as OBGYN’s often have a better understanding of female physiology throughout their lifetimes. They also have a deeper relationship with their patients as they go through childbirth and menopause, which are significant physical and emotional events.

When OBGYN’s get bored, they hang out on line at .


Internal Medicine Specialists

Internal Medicine Specialists focus on adult medicine.

Their education and experience includes wellness, women’s health, substance abuse, mental health, and the treatment of common problems of the eyes, ears, skin, nervous system, and reproductive organs. Internists consider themselves to be your ‘doctor for life’ in the sense that they anticipate a patient’s treatment to span their outpatient office, hospital stays, intensive care, and nursing homes – including the coordination of care with other specialists.

Considerations: Some Internists choose to specialize in treating patients while hospitalized, and are called, surprisingly enough, ‘Hospitalists’.   If you select an Internist as your PCP and coordinated care is important to you, check to make sure that your hospital stay will be treated by your PCP and not a stranger who is a Hospitalist colleague.

While some Internists practice as PCP’s, others go on to sub-specialize in;

Adolescent medicine

Allergy and immunology

Cardiology (heart)

Endocrinology (diabetes and other glandular disorders)

Gastroenterology (colon and intestinal tract)

Geriatrics (care of the elderly)

Hematology (blood)

Infectious disease

Nephrology (kidneys)

Oncology (cancer)

Pulmonology (lungs)

Rheumatology (arthritis)

Sports medicine

Considerations:  If you or one of your family members is afflicted by a chronic condition that is a principle factor in your overall care, an Internist specializing in that condition may be a good choice.

Internists are not only proud of their area of specialty – they’re also proud of their website at .


Holistic or Integrative Physicians

Holistic or Integrative physicians are either MD’s or DO’s who believe that medicine is the art and science of healing that addresses care of the whole person – body, mind, and spirit.

The practice of holistic medicine integrates conventional and complementary therapies to promote optimal health, and prevent and treat disease by addressing contributing factors. Holistic healthcare practitioners strive to meet the patient with grace, kindness, acceptance, and spirit without condition, as love is life’s most powerful healer. In practice, this means that each person is seen as a unique individual, rather than an example of a particular disease. Disease is understood to be the result of physical, emotional, spiritual, social and environmental imbalance. Healing, therefore, takes place naturally when these aspects of life are brought into proper balance. The role of the practitioner is as guide, mentor and role model; the patient must do the work – changing lifestyle, beliefs and old habits in order to facilitate healing. All appropriate methods may be used, from medication to meditation.

More about Holistic practitioners can be found at .


Functional Medicine

Functional medicine addresses the underlying causes of disease, using a systems-oriented approach and engaging both patient and practitioner in a therapeutic partnership.

It is an evolution in the practice of medicine that better addresses the healthcare needs of the 21st century. By shifting the traditional disease-centered focus of medical practice to a more patient-centered approach, functional medicine addresses the whole person, not just an isolated set of symptoms. Functional medicine practitioners spend time with their patients, listening to their histories and looking at the interactions among genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors that can influence long-term health and complex, chronic disease. In this way, functional medicine supports the unique expression of health and vitality for each individual.

See more at


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