Most experts recommend that women have both an annual physical and yearly visit to the gynecologist to ensure their overall health and wellbeing. However, it can seem overwhelming to keep track of so many doctor visits throughout the year. If you’re worried about frequently going to the doctor, you might wonder if it’s possible to combine your yearly checkups into one with a visit to your NYC gynecologist.
Generally speaking, it’s best to have both a primary care physician and a gynecologist. This is because gynecologists and ob/gyns specialize in women’s health and may not provide care for more general medical conditions. Having both a primary care doctor and a gynecologist is a great way to build a health team prepared to assist you in all stages of your life.
Keep reading to find out how gynecologists and primary care physicians differ and how you can make the most of your regular healthcare visits with them.
The differences between a Gynecologist and a primary care physician
Gynecologists and primary care physicians have different specialties that help them treat their patients. Here is what you need to know about these specific doctors so you can tell the differences between them.
Gynecologist or OB/GYN
Gynecologists are doctors that focused on women’s health, or gynecology, during their residency after medical school. These doctors can cover a wide range of women’s health concerns, from prescribing contraception to regular checkups and hormonal monitoring.
Gynecologists may share their practices with obstetricians, who focus on pregnancy, labor, and delivery. These doctors can provide pre-pregnancy health checks, such as ultrasounds of the ovaries and uterus, or consultations throughout pregnancy. Your obstetrician will likely work with you throughout your entire pregnancy and may even deliver your baby.
Primary Care Doctors
Primary care physicians (or PCPs, which most people call them) are doctors with the broadest range of specialization. Most primary care doctors focus on internal medicine or family medicine as a specialty, which gives them the versatility to be a one-stop-shop for most healthcare needs.
Most people will go to their PCP before seeing a specialist when something goes wrong. That’s because these general practitioners can handle anything from a cold to diabetes and joint pain. However, a primary care doctor’s real value comes from yearly physical exams where they can offer preventative services like monitoring vital signs and cholesterol screenings.
Pediatricians are specialized primary care doctors for children, but they can provide medical guidance for the whole family as family medicine doctors. These medical professionals can provide vaccinations and immunizations for common illnesses like chickenpox or measles. Regular visits to your child’s pediatrician are a great way to build a robust medical history that can help them later in life.
Should I have a primary care physician and a gynecologist?
While there may seem to be some overlap between primary care physicians and gynecologists, it’s typically a good idea to have both of them as part of your care team. Since these two doctors are relatively specialized, they provide the best care when performing services in their specialty.
Having both a PCP and a gynecologist helps ensure that all of your specific care needs are met before they become more significant health issues.
Should I see a gynecologist or regular doctor?
If you’re not sure what kind of doctor you should see, there are a few things you can consider before making your appointment. Are you interested in getting advice regarding birth control, menopause, or other reproductive health concerns? In that case, you should reach out to an ob/gyn.
Suppose you’re worried about something more general, such as a cold, or are interested in a yearly physical, or are looking for more general medical advice. In that case, it might be best to visit a primary care physician or general practitioner.
You shouldn’t worry about picking the wrong doctor when it comes to medical care. If you accidentally go to the wrong doctor, it’s generally not a big deal. Both general practitioners and ob/gyns can provide referrals to another specialist to ensure you get the best care. For example, while primary care providers may provide some guidance during pregnancy, they are not experts. Your doctor may suggest you follow-up with an ob/gyn for more specialized care, like monitoring fetal development or testing for genetic defects.
Similarly, your gynecologist may recognize that you have high blood pressure while taking your vital signs during an appointment. Since they do not specialize in internal medicine outside of women’s health, they may refer you to an internist to ensure that there is no underlying cause of heart disease. Your gynecologist may also refer you to a dermatologist if they notice a rash during a physical exam.
Can a primary care physician do a pap smear?
Some primary care physicians can do exams that a gynecologist would typically do during your yearly physical. If you’re interested in getting a pelvic exam or pap smear as part of your regular wellness check, ask your doctor if they provide that service.
Typically, a family practice doctor will provide these services if they see younger patients. However, if they tend to work with older patients, they may not offer these services. It’s important to ask a general practitioner if they will perform well-woman exams, such as breast cancer screenings, pelvic exams, and pap smears, before building a relationship with them, so you know what to expect during your yearly visits.
Even if your PCP does provide these services, you should still consider having a full-time gynecologist specializing in women’s healthcare. If any of the test results done by your general practitioner come back suspicious, your doctor may refer you for a gynecological consultation for further investigation.
Your health can’t be guaranteed by just one doctor, which is why you need both a gynecologist and a primary care physician. While your gynecologist can give you great insights into your health, you still need a PCP to provide guidance for more general health issues. Many women have a closer relationship with their gynecologist than their PCP, making it attractive to use them as their sole medical professional.
It’s important to realize that even the best ob/gyn may have limited resources when treating conditions outside of reproductive health. Going to a gynecologist for chest pains or a cold is not ideal, and you might not get the best care. That’s why you need to have a full team of health professionals in your corner to ensure that you get the best care possible.