If you are a woman in your reproductive years, it can be hard to know which kind of doctor you should be seeing for an annual exam or for questions about reproductive health. Should you just see your primary care doctor, or should you be seeing an OBGYN?
Most women assume that, unless they are pregnant, they shouldn’t see an OBGYN. But that’s just not the case. In order to understand why though, you must first understand the differences and similarities between an OBGYN and a primary care provider.
What is the Role of a Primary Care Doctor?
A primary care doctor is someone you can rely on to help you manage your health through preventative care (routine physicals, screenings, and immunizations), and can diagnose and manage many common conditions of the human body. They are most helpful in the event of common, minor illness or injury.
They are trained in a broad range of health conditions but can be specialized in specific expertise such as diabetes, geriatrics, internal medicine, pediatrics, etc. If they can’t diagnose a health problem you face, they can refer you to a specialist who should be able to.
There are five types of primary care doctors:
- Family Medicine Doctor: These doctors care for your entire family, from babies to your grandparents. They provide highly personalized care and know your family history better than anyone because they are usually your family doctor for much of your life (if not generations).
- Internal Medicine-Pediatric Doctors: Also called “med-peds”, these doctors are basically a two-for-one. They are board-certified as internal medicine doctors and pediatricians. They care for children and adults by preventing, treating, and diagnosing sickness and diseases.
- Pediatricians: Specializing in the care of children, they focus on the prevention, treatment, and diagnosing of sickness and disease in children from birth through early adulthood. They can treat minor injuries and illnesses as well as more complex health conditions. They are experts in child development and keeping children on track for a healthy life.
- Internal Medicine Doctors: Also known as “internists”, these doctors care for adults from early adulthood to old age. They are experts in issues that primarily affect adults, like cholesterol, high blood pressure, etc.
- OBGYNs (Obstetricians and Gynecologists): Experts in the female reproductive system, many women choose OBGYN’s to be their primary care doctors. Although they can be a primary care doctor, OBGYNs usually prefer to have another one of the primary care doctors care for patients for medical issues that aren’t related to the female reproductive system.
Yes, an OBGYN Can Be a Primary Care Doctor
Were you surprised to find that an OBGYN can be a primary care doctor? Most women are! Most women assume that because an OBGYN specializes in gynecology and obstetrics that it’s all they do. But, as we just learned above, OBGYNs are trained in a broad range of health conditions and their specialty is women’s health and the female reproductive system. OBGYNs are well known for being the doctor that women go to for their annual well-woman exams, or if they are pregnant or trying to be, or if they are going through menopause. They help women with all things pertaining to reproductive health, but they also can provide you with:
- Routine Procedures and Screenings (relating to women’s health and otherwise)
- Bone and Joint Health
- Weight Monitoring and Management
- Skin Issues (Hormonal and otherwise)
- Thyroid Issues
- Mental Health Issues, including Mood Swings, Depression, and Anxiety
- Family Planning and Birth Control Counseling
- Educating Children on Sexual Health and Reproduction
- Transitioning Through Life Stages such as Puberty, Pregnancy, and Menopause
When to Choose a Primary Care Doctor versus an OBGYN
Although an OBGYN can serve as your primary care doctor, not ALL OBGYNs operate in that capacity, so it’s important to check with your OBGYN to see if they can handle all of your care. Sometimes, they can’t.
Good examples of times when you’ll want to see a primary care doctor instead of an OBGYN include (but are not limited to):
- If you are dealing with a cold or flu-like symptoms
- If you think you may have earaches, ear infections, sinus infections, etc.
- If you have chest discomfort or neck pain
- If you’re having gastrointestinal or bowel related problems
- If you have a minor or major illness or injury that is not related to the female reproductive system
Primary care doctors can perform annual well-woman exams and provide pregnancy care, but it’s usually not their specialty and they can’t usually care for you as well as an OBGYN could for such things.
When it comes to choosing a primary care doctor, it’s important to just ask your doctor and/or your OBGYN. They can help you determine if it’s best for you to only see one or the other, or if you need to be seeing both.
At OGA, we provide the best care a woman can receive in the Treasure Valley. We put women and their health first, applying the best and most current medical science to their individual health situations for more consistent and responsible care. Learn more about us!