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Published on August 26, 2021

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Primary care providers: Your questions answered

There are many reasons you may be looking for a primary care provider (PCP). Perhaps, your insurance changed, your longtime doctor retired, or you've added a new member to your family. Maybe you've never seen a PCP and wonder why you need one. We'll tackle your frequently asked questions and guide you through your options in primary care at Gundersen Health System.

What is a PCP?

A PCP is the person who takes care of your overall health and well-being. They see you for:

  • Annual exams and preventive care (screenings, immunizations, labs, etc.)
  • Medical concerns or when you are feeling under the weather
  • Treatment of ongoing (chronic) conditions

Do I need a PCP if I am healthy?

Absolutely. Every patient should have a PCP. Because a PCP gets to know you and your medical history, he or she can identify health issues in their early stages before they become major problems. A PCP will also make sure you are up to date on routine screenings and immunizations, and help you navigate the healthcare system if you need specialized care.

Where can I find a PCP?

PCPs fall into one of three departments at Gundersen:

  • Family Medicine
  • Internal Medicine
  • Pediatrics

Should I choose Family Medicine, Internal Medicine or Pediatrics?

This decision is a personal one. Here are some differences to consider:

  • Family Medicine providers (or family practitioners) see both children and adults so they can care for your entire family, from birth through adolescence and adulthood. Some family practitioners provide prenatal care and deliver babies.
    • Convenience of seeing one doctor for the whole family
    • Provider gets a better picture of your family's health
    • Postgraduate training (medical school and a three-year residency) where they care for adults, children and women during pregnancy in both the hospital and clinic
  • Internal Medicine providers (or internists) specialize in caring for adults, ages 18 and older—often those with more complex medical needs.
    • Expertise in adult health conditions
    • Diagnose and treat medical problems of greater complexity
    • Postgraduate training (medical school and a three-year residency) where they care for adults in both the hospital and clinic
  • Pediatricians specialize in caring for children from birth through the teenage years. Most children switch to Family Medicine or Internal Medicine when they are around age 18.
    • More in-depth knowledge of children's needs and problems
    • Postgraduate training (medical school and a three-year residency) where they care for children in both the hospital and clinic

Can I choose a nurse practitioner or physician assistant as my PCP?

Yes. Nurse practitioners and physician assistants—also known as advanced practice clinicians (APCs)—are medical professionals who evaluate patients, diagnose/treat medical conditions and prescribe medication. They hold masters and/or doctorate degrees and practice under the supervision of a physician at Gundersen. Although their training path is shorter than physicians, ACPs have rigorous training and credentialing requirements.

What is the difference between an MD and DO?

When you are looking at PCPs, you may notice the DO credential behind some names. This stands for Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine. Both MDs and DOs have gone through similar training (medical school and a residency program) and diagnose and treat medical conditions. The main difference is that a DO has extra training on the musculoskeletal system.

What tips do you have for selecting a PCP?

To begin, we suggest calling your preferred location at Gundersen to ask which providers are accepting new patients. Once you have a list of potential providers, look at their online profiles, videos and patient experience ratings. (You can search for a provider by name, department or location on our website). Then, think about your personal preferences—office location, the provider's age, gender and philosophy of care. Talk to your family and friends for recommendations. Ultimately, you want a provider you can trust—someone who listens, answers your questions and makes you feel comfortable.

How often should I see my PCP?

Regular health exams are important to keep you on the track to good health throughout your life. For adults, we recommend seeing your PCP every 6 to 12 months based on your healthcare needs. Children should have well-child exams at:

  • 1-2 days after leaving the hospital
  • 2 weeks
  • 2, 4, 6, 9, 12, 15, 18 and 24 months of age
  • 3 years and every year after into adulthood

How much does it cost to see a PCP?

Under the Affordable Care Act, most health plans must cover preventive healthcare services at no cost to you (e.g., immunizations, screening tests). However, these services are free only when delivered by a healthcare provider in your plan's network. Contact your insurance company with questions.

What should I bring to my first visit?

It is helpful to bring your immunization records, family history, insurance information and a list of current medications and dosages (including vitamins and supplements). Also, don't forget to bring your questions!

What if my PCP is not a good fit? Can I switch?

Yes. If you are not satisfied with your choice, you can schedule your next visit with a different provider.

What is the best way to make an appointment?

When you are ready to make an appointment, call Gundersen at (608) 782-7300 or your preferred clinic location.

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