Primary care, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians, involves “first contact” and continuing care for people who have a medical problem that has not yet been diagnosed. It can be provided in a number of health settings, such as a doctor's office or a clinic, and is the province of a personal physician who is trained in comprehensive medical care rather than a specialty. Primary care includes such activities as health promotion and maintenance, disease prevention, patient counseling and education, diagnosis and treatment of acute and chronic illnesses.
Primary care is broad-based and comprehensive. This allows the practitioner to gather information about all of the patient's health care problems and needs. Primary care providers typically establish long-lasting relationships with their patients, unlike a specialist who may only see a patient once or twice. This doctor-patient relationship promotes trust and ensures that someone is looking after all of the patient's health care needs to prevent medical care from becoming fragmented.
Physicians who provide primary care should be trained as generalists who look at patient health situations comprehensively, rather than focusing on a single organ or body system. Family physicians are typical primary care providers, and their training is targeted toward that end. Internists provide primary care to adults, while family physicians provide primary care to all ages. Pediatricians are also trained in primary care, with a focus on child and adolescent health. Nurse practitioners and physician assistants may also be primary care providers.
Primary care services run the gamut of child, adolescent, and adult medicine. A primary care physician might provide prenatal and newborn care, as well as deliver the baby. Preventive services such as immunizations and well-child checkups are the norm. Chronic disease management (often in collaboration with a specialist) is another aspect of primary care. Cancer screening, women's health, and more specialized services such as sports medicine or allergy management may also be included in primary care.
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