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Types of health care providers

This article describes health care providers involved in primary care, nursing care, and specialty care. This is just one way of organizing the many types of health care providers.

See the following articles for detailed information on specific types of health care providers:

Alternative Names

Physicians; Nurses; Health care providers; Doctors; Pharmacists

Information

PRIMARY CARE

A primary care provider (PCP) is a person you may see first for checkups and health problems. If you have a health care plan, find out what type of practitioner can serve as your PCP.

  • The term "generalist" often refers to medical doctors (MDs) and doctors of osteopathic medicine (DOs) who specialize in internal medicine, family practice, or pediatrics.
  • OB/GYNs are doctors who specialize in obstetrics and gynecology, including women's health care, wellness, and prenatal care. Many women use an OB/GYN as their primary care provider.
  • Nurse practitioners (NPs) are nurses with graduate training. They can serve as a primary care provider in family medicine (FNP), pediatrics (PNP), adult care (ANP), or geriatrics (GNP). Others are trained to address women's health care (common concerns and routine screenings) and family planning. NPs can prescribe medications.
  • A physician assistant (PA) can provide a wide range of services in collaboration with a Doctor of Medicine (MD) or a¬†Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine¬†(DO).

NURSING CARE

  • Registered nurses (RNs) have graduated from a nursing program, have passed a state board examination, and are licensed by the state.
  • Licensed practical nurses (LPNs) are state-licensed caregivers who have been trained to care for the sick.
  • Advanced practice nurses have education and experience beyond the basic training and licensing required of all RNs. This includes nurse practitioners (NPs) and the following:
    • Clinical nurse specialists (CNSs) have training in a field such as cardiac, psychiatric, or community health.
    • Certified nurse midwives (CNMs) have training in women's health care needs, including prenatal care, labor and delivery, and care of a woman who has given birth.
    • Certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs) have training in the field of anesthesia. Anesthesia is the process of putting a patient into a painless sleep, and keeping the patient's body working, so surgeries or special tests can be done.

DRUG THERAPY

Licensed pharmacists have graduate training from a college of pharmacy.

Your pharmacist prepares and processes drug prescriptions that were written by your primary or specialty care provider. Pharmacists provide information to patients about medications, while also consulting with health care providers about dosages, interactions, and side effects of medicines.

Your pharmacist may also follow your progress to check the safe and effective use of your medication.

SPECIALTY CARE

Your primary care provider may refer you to professionals in various specialties when necessary, such as:

  • Allergy and asthma
  • Anesthesiology -- general anesthesia or spinal block for surgeries and some forms of pain control
  • Cardiology -- heart disorders
  • Dermatology -- skin disorders
  • Endocrinology -- hormonal and metabolic disorders, including diabetes
  • Gastroenterology -- digestive system disorders
  • General surgery -- common surgeries involving any part of the body
  • Hematology -- blood disorders
  • Immunology -- disorders of the immune system
  • Infectious disease -- infections affecting the tissues of any part of the body
  • Nephrology -- kidney disorders
  • Neurology -- nervous system disorders
  • Obstetrics/gynecology -- pregnancy and women's reproductive disorders
  • Oncology -- cancer treatment
  • Ophthalmology -- eye disorders and surgery
  • Orthopedics -- bone and connective tissue disorders
  • Otorhinolaryngology -- ear, nose, and throat (ENT) disorders
  • Physical therapy and rehabilitative medicine -- for disorders such as low back injury, spinal cord injuries, and stroke
  • Psychiatry -- emotional or mental disorders
  • Pulmonary (lung) -- respiratory tract disorders
  • Radiology -- x-rays and related procedures (such as ultrasound , CT , and MRI )
  • Rheumatology -- pain and other symptoms related to joints and other parts of the musculoskeletal system
  • Urology -- disorders of the male reproductive and urinary tracts and the female urinary tract

Updated: 8/14/2012

Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director and Director of Didactic Curriculum, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.


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