First, let’s define the difference between Primary Care Provider (PCP) also known as General Practitioner (GP) and a specialized physician (specialist).
What Is A Primary Care Provider?
The most common setting you will encounter a PCP is a family medicine office. PCPs are generally trained to have a broad knowledge of diseases. I think of the as an appetizer platter but not the full meal. They serve as the first check point for a patient seeking medical intervention for health concerns. A PCP can be a medical doctor, physician’s assistant or a nurse practitioner.
PCPs are important because they can reduce the amount of traffic specialists are burdened with in the healthcare system. PCPs can begin the investigative process to find what’s causing a patient’s medical problem. This can be achieved through blood work, imaging or physical examination. Most people do not need to go any further than seeing a PCP. In many cases, a PCP can identify the causative agent and treat it effectively.
However, if there is suspicion of an illness that needs further investigation, the PCP will refer you to a specialist. Ideally your pcp will send a request (known as referral ) to the specialist along with supporting documentation i.e , lab results, imaging and notes to the receiving physician. I love my PCP because she will usually reach out to the receiving PCP personally to share any pertinent information about the reason for referral or request that my appointment be expedited for serious concerns.
PCPs also treat common medical illnesses such as asthma, ear infections, eczema, pink eye (Conjunctivitis), flu, headaches, constipation, respiratory infections, and injuries: sprains, minor animal bites, minor burns. They also perform annual physicals examinations and administered routine vaccinations.
What Is A Specialist?
A physician specialist focuses their care on a specific body system such as cardiovascular, digestive, nervous or respiratory system. For example, a gastroenterologist treats and diagnosis problems of the digestive system. Some of these medical problems can be acid reflux, constipation, diarrhea, difficulty swallowing, diverticulitis, hiatal hernia, gallbladder malfunction, ulcers, and autoimmune diseases of the digestive system: celiac disease, crohns and ulcerative colitis. They can order specific diagnostic work and perform minor procedures to correct the issue.
A subspecialist is all of the above and more. They may focus on a specific disease within a body system or organ. For example, a Gastroenterologist can chose to care for patients with digestive issues caused by Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, Crohns disease or disorders of the liver.
Why I Prefer Seeing A Specialist or Subspecialist
Many of my physicians are subspecialists. I’ve found that not all specialist are versed in rare and complex diseases that require a multidisciplinary team approach. It has been my experience that a physician who specializes in a specific condition such as, EDS, MCAS, or PMDD has more insight into diagnoses, prognosis and effective treatments. Some are on the front lines of of medical research to identify effective treatments. They are more likely to see the patient as an ally and do not dismiss uncommon symptoms because it does not follow textbook symptom of that disease. There are some things to consider though.
From my perspective, MCAS is an expensive condition to manage. My biggest issue is that specialists or subspecialists are quite pricey and most of mine do not accept insurance. I have heard some express their frustration about the lengthy paperwork required by insurance company to have to provide to obtain approval for patient testing or medication approval. Rather than ficus on patient care, they spend more time documenting to justify their recommendations. Another issue? New patient appointments can take 3 – 6 months, or a year for an initial consult with a specialist. Personally, I think that’s a minor nuisance compared to the benefits I receive.
Is it worth the price tag or the wait if you believe you have found the right physician for you condition? Leave a comment below.