Who to see for primary care?

For most, healthcare is a relationship with a primary care provider. This is typically a patient’s main contact point for annual physicals and most other healthcare concerns. Yet, healthcare is changing.

I remember having the same physician as my pediatrician, primary care, and virtually everything else growing up. He gave me vaccinations as a child and took care of me as a growing youth through middle and high school.

Fortunately, children now see pediatricians for many items, and once the need for a primary care provider arises, there are different options. While many prefer to see an actual medical doctor (MD) because of comfort or perception of more expertise, nurse practitioners (NPs) or physician assistants (PAs) are other – increasingly common – alternatives.

A key reason is due to a national shortage of primary care physicians, which is projected to worsen. A study noted a shortage of more than 100,000 primary care physicians by 2030 as the demand is not keeping up with the need of the nation’s growing and aging population.

Fortunately, healthcare networks utilize physician assistants and nurse practitioners in these roles who work as part of a healthcare team with other physicians, nurses and medical assistants to provide the high-quality care any patient expects.

A five-year study of more than 23,000 visits with more than 1,100 providers concluded primary care provided by PAs or NPs is similar to MDs. It also found NPs were more likely than MDs to recommend smoking cessation, and both PA and NPs were more likely to provide health education and counseling to patients.

Here is a quick background of similarities and differences between MDs, PAs and NPs:

  • All require a master’s Degree, a minimum of 500 hours of classroom time and 500 hours of clinic time, and recertification requirements.
  • All can write prescriptions, conduct physical exams, diagnose patients, treat illnesses, order and interpret tests, and consult patients.
  • NPs learning is based on nursing like RNs; while PAs learning model is physician-based like MDs.
  • MDs require a Doctor or Medicine (MD) or Doctor of Osteopathy (DO), as well as a minimum of three years of residency – which is also why MDs earn more and patients oftentimes pay more for an MD vs. NP/PA.

Based on this, it is clear that primary care needs can be met with a NP or PA – especially knowing they are part of a patient care team and you can probably schedule an appointment much faster. And rest assured, if there are concerns the NP or PA can’t resolve, Holy Family Memorial’s primary care team model promotes collaboration among providers.

We look forward to the opportunity to serve you with our great team whenever the need arises and hope the clarification of a NP, PA and MD provides peace of mind when seeking primary care.

About the author.

David Yeghiaian is the interim vice president of strategy at Holy Family Memorial. Reach him at dyeghiaian@hfmhealth.org.

Learn more about HFM Primary Care here.