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Frequently Asked Questions About Primary Care and Primary Care Physicians

​What does the term PCP mean?​

Your primary care doctor or primary care provider (PCP) is a medical doctor who specializes in either internal or family medicine. In addition to providing routine medical care, your primary care doctor also helps to identify potential health problems and promote your overall wellness.​

What is the difference between an internal medicine and a family medicine doctor?

​Also known as an internist, an internal medicine doctor typically provides care for adult patients age 18 and above. Family medicine doctors provide care for individuals of all ages, from infants to adults. Both are highly trained medical professionals with experience in identifying and treating a broad range of health conditions.

​Do I need to have children to see a family medicine doctor?

​No. A family medicine doctor treats individuals, and patients of all ages and genders.

What conditions do primary care doctors treat?

It’s helpful to think of your PCP as the “conductor” who orchestrates your entire medical care — from the simple to the complex. He or she will maintain your full medical history in order to provide you with the best care possible. If you need advanced care, your primary care doctor is your link to medical specialists, advanced services, and treatments.

Because early diagnosis and treatment usually leads to better outcomes and recovery, your PCP will recommend screenings such as annual physicals, Pap tests, breast exams, mammograms, prostate screenings, colonoscopies, and others.

What are the benefits of having a primary care doctor?

​Having a primary care doctor you see regularly is key to your overall health. Through regular visits, your PCP gets to know you, your family history, and your lifestyle. You can develop a trusting relationship with your PCP that allows you to talk honestly and openly about your health concerns.

Your PCP helps you stay healthy by providing regular checkups, preventative health care screenings, and vaccinations. Your PCP can help you successfully manage life-threatening and “silent” medical conditions, such as high blood pressure, cancer, and diabetes. Your PCP also can connect you to highly-trained medical specialists when you need advanced or specialized care. When your care includes treatment from numerous health care specialists, your PCP can ensure you receive the best possible care.

​Can I walk into my PCP’s office or do I always need to schedule an appointment?

​Many of UPMC’s primary care providers now offer “walk-in” hours. View our walk-in center locations and hours. However, it’s good to contact your primary care doctor’s office and ask about walk-in hours.

​Can I get the same kind of treatment ​at an “express-type-of-care” facility as I would from my PCP?

Your PCP knows you and your health history, which is valuable information. It’s advisable to seek care from your PCP whenever possible. “Express care” facilities can be a helpful resource when you can’t see your PCP for an urgent medical condition or when your doctor’s office is closed.

It’s important to advise your PCP whenever you do receive express care or emergency treatment so the information can be included in your medical records.

Is it expensive to have a PCP? What does it cost to have a primary care doctor?

Having a primary care provider is a cost-efficient and cost-effective source of health care. Some medical insurance coverage may cover the cost of a routine check-up or annual visit to a PCP. When comparing the cost of an “in-office visit” to a visit at an express-type-of-care facility or an emergency department, the co-pay is typically more for the latter.

How do I go about getting PCP? What is the process?

Any time is the best time to find the right PCP. Personal preferences, such as office location, or a doctor’s age or gender, may be important factors in your choice of a PCP. Ask family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers for recommendations. Make sure that the doctor accepts your insurance and is affiliated with hospitals included in your health care coverage.

The next step is to make an appointment. Be sure to share your questions, concerns, and expectations with the doctor and staff. Then, you can make a decision if the doctor is a good fit for you.

How convenient are UPMC’s primary care office locations?

UPMC has nearly 200 primary care offices located in western Pennsylvania and from Erie and Altoona. You can find a highly-skilled primary care provider near your home or workplace by visiting UPMC Find a Doctor.

Why do people switch PCPs?

There are a variety of reasons. Some switch because their medical insurance changes, their current doctor retires, perhaps they move to a new region or state, or there may be a more personal reason for changing primary care doctors. For example, an older patient may want a PCP who specializes in geriatric medicine.

Whether you’re feeling great, have a minor concern, or a more serious medical issue, it’s important to have a PCP you trust and who has access to a broad network of medical experts. Having a PCP is one of the most important steps you can take to protect your health.

Contact Us

To find a UPMC primary care physician near you, call 1‑855‑676‑8762
(855‑676‑UPMC PCP).

Request an appointment online.

Additional Resources

UPMC | Affiliated with the University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences | Supplemental content provided by Healthwise, Incorporated. To learn more, visit

For help in finding a doctor or health service that suits your needs, call the UPMC Referral Service at 412-647-UPMC (8762) or 1-800-533-UPMC (8762). Select option 1.

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Medical information made available on is not intended to be used as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You should not rely entirely on this information for your health care needs. Ask your own doctor or health care provider any specific medical questions that you have. Further, is not a tool to be used in the case of an emergency. If an emergency arises, you should seek appropriate emergency medical services.

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