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Types of Primary Care Physicians

Your primary care physician serves as the entry point for substantially all of your medical and health care needs. He or she is your advocate in coordinating the use of the entire health care system to benefit you and takes continuing responsibility for providing your care. Primary care includes health promotion, disease prevention, health maintenance, counseling, patient education, diagnosis and treatment of acute and chronic illnesses. By regularly seeing a primary care practitioner, you can identify and control health risk factors before they become problems. Your primary care practitioner encourages you to take charge of your health and is a trusted partner in an environment where you can feel comfortable and known.

All doctors are not alike. Many different health care professionals with different types of education can provide health care. Adults in your family could see an internist. Children could go to a pediatrician. Or the whole family could see a family medicine doctor. You could have a family medicine doctor and an obstetrician/gynecologist, or an internist and a geriatrician. If it's right for you, it's the right choice. Here's a guide to the five kinds of primary care doctors available at Lehigh Valley Health Network.

If a physician on your care team is board-certified, he or she chose to obtain an additional credential after medical school and residency training. Board-certified physicians have completed additional education and passed an examination to earn this credential. If one of your caregivers is fellowship-trained, the physician has had additional training in a particular area of interest.

Family medicine doctors: Also called family practice doctors, they see people of all ages, including infants, children, teens and seniors. They are educated and board-certified in their knowledge of the body at all ages.

Internal medicine doctors: Also called internists, they generally care for people age 14 and up (the starting age can vary by practice). They are educated and board-certified in the understanding of the internal organs of the adult body. Some internal medicine and family medicine physicians also can provide care that you might not expect, like routine gynecologic care, dermatology and sports medicine.

Gynecologist or obstetrician: For many women, this physician is a key health resource. Through the reproductive years and afterward, your obstetrician or gynecologist has the knowledge and experience to promote your well-being. They recommend tests and exams necessary at different stages of your life.

Geriatricians: They have special education to address the specific needs of adults over age 60. They provide routine primary care, as well as medication management, physical and mental assessments related to falls, memory issues and other aspects of aging. 

Pediatricians: Every child needs to see a doctor – in fact, more often than adults. Pediatricians are specially educated to care for children, ranging from newborns through age 21. If your child needs special care, our pediatricians work closely with our specialists so your child can receive the best care.

MD or DO?

So you've narrowed down the type or primary care doctor you'd like to see. Now you may have questions about whether you'd prefer an MD or a DO. Here is some information to help you choose.

MD stands for medical doctor, a doctor who trained at a medical school. DO stands for doctor of osteopathic medicine, who trained at a college of osteopathic medicine. They represent two branches of medicine that started out completely separate but have grown more alike over 125 years. Both types of physicians spend the same number of years training, must pass a licensing exam, and are licensed to provide all types of medical care, including surgery.

Most people are familiar with how medical doctors are trained in understanding the body and treating disease. Osteopathic medicine was founded in 1874 based on a "whole person" approach that emphasizes preventive care and wellness. Osteopaths also receive ongoing education in the musculoskeletal system, and some but not all osteopaths perform osteopathic manipulative treatments. Because of this "whole person" approach, about two-thirds of osteopaths choose to become primary care doctors.

Today, the two branches of medicine seem more alike than different. MDs emphasize preventive care and wellness, and a growing number of osteopaths are choosing to become specialists.

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This is a non-profit organization. Please consider donating to help heal, comfort and care.

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