Women often ask whether their OB-GYN can double as their primary care physician to take care of things like annual checkups and illnesses. The answer? Not exactly.
To understand why, it’s helpful to define each role.
Primary care doctors
Primary care doctors care for the whole patient and increasingly operate as the center of a patient’s health care experience. They diagnose and treat diseases and conditions and make referrals to specialists (including OB-GYNs) when needed.
Primary care doctors include family medicine, internal medicine and pediatrics. Some primary care doctors may also specialize in women’s health care.
Obstetrics deals with pregnancy care, while gynecology focuses on the functions and diseases specific to girls and women, particularly those concerning the reproductive system, breasts or pelvic region.
OB-GYNs are physicians who have undergone four years of residency training in obstetrics and gynecology after graduating from medical school.
Practicing OB-GYNs focus on services like contraception planning, gynecologic disease prevention, pregnancy care, diagnosing infertility, hormonal problems, menstrual disorders, and gynecological procedures and surgery.
One and the same?
OB-GYNs can save you a trip to see a primary care physician for issues like urinary tract infections, abnormal vaginal discharges, menstrual irregularities, pelvic pain, endometriosis, sexually transmitted infections and breast pain or lumps.
Many healthy women are fine seeing only their OB-GYN, who can make sure their patients are up to date on their maintenance health screenings. “If those tests are abnormal, many times an OB-GYN will refer you to a primary care physician,” said Dr. Angela Fleming, a Beaumont OB-GYN. “If you have a cold or issues unrelated to gynecology, then it’s helpful to have a primary care physician.”
She recommends that women see a primary care doctor, as opposed to an OB-GYN, whenever there’s an issue not related to reproductive health.
“Good examples are sore throats, ear aches, chest discomfort and bowel related issues,” she said.
Primary care doctors can also perform many women’s health services, including annual gynecologic exams and pregnancy care. When women are no longer in childbearing age and their menopause symptoms have subsided, they can often stop having annual gynecologic exams. For these women, having one doctor may simply be easier and more convenient, so some opt to switch to having only a primary care provider.