Perhaps you see your primary care provider for annual wellness visits — but now you’re pregnant. Or maybe you’ve been seeing an obstetrician-gynecologist for your regular annual wellness visits, but you’ve developed some other health concerns. In either case, do you need to see both a PCP and an OB-GYN?
The answer: It depends on your unique situation, says Dr. Kelly Pucillo, Family Medicine and Obstetrics Physician at ThedaCare Physicians-Waupaca.
National Women’s Health Week (May 14-20, 2023) offers an ideal opportunity for women to consider where they can best receive care.
Care in One Place
As you consider which option is best for you, it helps to know the ways in which a primary care physician differs from an OB-GYN. The term primary care can refer to pediatrics (treat children only), internal medicine (treat adults only), or family medicine (treat patients of all ages). In addition to physicians, your primary care team may include nurse practitioners and physician assistants.
Family medicine physicians also receive training in obstetrics, and many continue to offer obstetric care in practice. Some family medicine physicians have gone on to complete an obstetric fellowship that includes training to perform cesarean sections. If your pregnancy is low-risk, your family medicine physician may be able to provide care for you before, during and after your pregnancy.
In addition, family medicine physicians, nurse practitioners and physician assistants can perform regular women’s wellness visits that may include a breast exam, pelvic exam and pap smear to screen for cervical cancer. They can also manage your chronic disease conditions such as high blood pressure or diabetes.
If you require more complex care, your primary care team can refer you to the appropriate specialist to help treat that condition.
“Most people can start with their primary care team,” Dr. Pucillo said. “We help determine the diagnosis and often start treatment. If a specialist is needed, we can help navigate the next steps a patient needs to take to receive that specialized care.”
The Role of an OB-GYN
OB-GYNs are trained to focus specifically on women’s health issues. They can care for patients who are experiencing gynecological health issues such as endometriosis, fertility concerns, menstrual problems or menopause.
OB-GYNs also care for pregnant women, including those who may have high-risk pregnancies. Those can include people with chronic health problems such as asthma, obesity, heart disorders or other issues; a history of pregnancy-related disorders or premature births; or multiple gestation (such as a twin pregnancy).
For those patients who need surgical care, OB-GYNs are trained to perform surgeries including cesarean sections, hysterectomies (removal of the uterus), oophorectomy (removal of the ovaries), salpingectomy (removal of the fallopian tubes), tubal ligations (sterilization), fibroid removals, and endometriosis procedures.
OB-GYN physicians and nurse practitioners can also perform regular women’s wellness visits that may include a breast exam, pelvic exam and pap smear. In addition, they can make referrals as needed to manage any non-OB-GYN-related issues that may develop.
Regardless of whether you receive care from your primary care provider or an OB-GYN, it’s important to keep up with annual wellness visits to ensure you receive the preventive care you need.
“As physicians, we’re here to support all our patients,” said Dr. Pucillo. “Women play so many important roles in our lives. We want to be sure they stay healthy. Preventive care can help keep disease away or detect problems early so that treatment is more effective. We’re here to help protect women’s health and provide them the care they need to live their best lives.”