Put Together a Family Health Care Team

These days, many families see lots of doctors to meet the family's medical needs. Some of the different health care professionals you and your family might visit include:

Primary Care

Primary care refers to the type of care you get when you first get sick. Some examples of primary care are:

  • Family medicine doctor
  • Internist
  • Nurse practitioner
  • Physician assistant

Family medicine doctor. Your family medicine doctor is someone who can treat the whole family, including kids.

This person will:

  • Diagnose you
  • Coordinate your care
  • Help you avoid getting sick in the first place

If you have a condition outside of your family medicine doctor's scope of practice, he or she will send you to a specialist.

Internist. An internist is a doctor who prevents and treats disease in adults. Internists are also called "doctors of internal medicine."

Some internists focus on a specialty. For example:

  • Cardiologists treat the heart.
  • Endocrinologists deal with hormonal diseases, such as diabetes.
  • Rheumatologists treat joint, muscle, and bone diseases, such as arthritis.

But even though internists may have an area they specialize in, they often serve as "primary care" doctors for adults.

Nurse practitioner. A nurse practitioner, sometimes called a NP, goes through rigorous training and licensing. NPs focus on wellness and disease prevention, and many have a medical specialty. They can:

  • Diagnose and treat illnesses
  • Order and interpret lab tests
  • Prescribe medicine

Physician assistant. A physician assistant, sometimes called a PA, is a medical professional who works with a doctor. PAs graduate from special educational programs. They can perform a variety of medical tasks, including:

  • Diagnose and treat illnesses
  • Order and interpret lab tests
  • Prescribe medicine

Today, many families see a physician assistant for routine medical care. Sometimes PAs work with specialists, so you might see them as part of a visit to a specialist.

Pediatrician

A pediatrician is a doctor who treats children from birth until they reach age 21.

Your child can visit a pediatrician for:

  • General checkups
  • Vaccinations
  • Illness

Most likely you'll take your child to a general pediatrician. Kids might need to see a pediatrician who specializes in one area of care, such as:

  • Cardiology
  • Infectious diseases
  • Pulmonology (lung problems)

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Geriatrician

On the other end of the age spectrum is the geriatrician. This doctor treats people ages 65 and older.

A geriatrician has studied internal or family medicine. He or she has done extra training in the medical issues that affect seniors. These issues can include:

  • Memory loss
  • Osteoporosis
  • Arthritis

Dentist

A dentist cares for your teeth and mouth. Dentists use X-rays and other techniques to check the teeth for cavities and disease.

Dentists perform procedures, such as fillings and root canals, to treat damaged teeth. Dentists also can straighten teeth that are out of alignment.

Dentists who specialize in children's teeth are called pediatric dentists.

Eye Care

There are two types of health professionals you and our family will likely visit to care for your eyes:

  • Optometrist
  • Ophthalmologist

Optometrist. Most people see an optometrist when they need their vision checked. Optometrists are not medical doctors. They are doctors of optometry. They have a degree from a college of optometry and some also get additional clinical training or complete a specialty fellowship after optometry school.

Most optometrists concentrate on regular vision care. You can see them for services such as:

  • Eye exams and vision tests
  • Prescribe and fit eyeglasses and contact lenses
  • Diagnose and treat certain eye conditions

Ophthalmologist. An ophthalmologist is a medical doctor. If you have an eye disease, eye trauma or an eye condition related to another illness, you can get it diagnosed and treated by an ophthalmologist.

He or she also does eye surgery. Some ophthalmologists will also prescribe and fit eyeglasses and contact lenses.

Obstetrician/Gynecologist

Obstetricians and gynecologists treat women for conditions that affect the reproductive system.

Obstetricians help women during pregnancy and delivery.

Gynecologists diagnose and treat diseases of the reproductive system, such as cancer and endometriosis. They also help women through menopause.

Some doctors practice both obstetrics and gynecology.

Allergist

When you're sniffling and sneezing from seasonal allergies, an allergist can help.

Allergists are trained to prevent and treat all kinds of allergies, including:

  • Hay fever
  • Skin reactions such as eczema
  • Food allergies
  • Asthma

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Mental Health Care Provider

A few types of professionals treat mental health issues such as:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • ADHD

Here are some examples of mental health providers:

Psychiatrist. He or she is a medical doctor who evaluates and treats mental disorders. Psychiatrists can prescribe medicines, such as antidepressants, to treat mental health problems.

Psychologist. A psychologist is not a medical doctor. He or she usually has a master's or doctorate degree in psychology.

Psychologists can evaluate mental health problems and treat them with therapy, but they can't prescribe medicines.

Counselor. A counselor has a master's degree in psychology or counseling. They can use techniques such as talk therapy, but they can't prescribe medicine.

Some mental health providers treat only children or older adults.

Dermatologist

A dermatologist treats many types of skin problems, including:

  • Acne
  • Eczema
  • Skin cancer

Dermatologists also improve the skin's appearance with creams, lasers, and other treatments.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on September 17, 2019

Sources

SOURCES:

American Academy of Family Physicians: "Primary Care."

American College of Physicians: "About Internal Medicine."

Ohio State University: "The Pediatrician."

University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences: "What is a geriatrician?"

American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus: "Difference between an Ophthalmologist, Optometrist, and Optician."

National Alliance on Mental Illness: "Mental Health Professionals. Who They are And How to Find One."

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