If you have complicated health issues or your doctor has called another doctor an industry term you’ve never heard before, you may be left wondering what all these health care names really mean. We can help you make sense of the different types of providers.
Primary Care Provider (PCP)
A primary care provider, or PCP, is your main doctor. It’s who you visit for routine checkups, preventive care, and general health problems. Each person in your family can have a PCP, or you can all see the same one.
If you’re on an HMO or POS plan, you have to choose an in-network PCP who will oversee your care and refer you to specialists. If you’re on a PPO plan, you don’t have to choose a PCP to get referrals, but you can to get personalized care and savings.
And if you’re a woman, you can set a doctor as your PCP or choose another in-network doctor, like an OB-GYN, to oversee free preventive care, your yearly well-woman visit, or a pregnancy.
Setting and changing your PCP is easy. Just log in to Your Health Alliance to update your PCP.
A specialist is a doctor who provides health care services for a specific disease or part of the body, like dermatologists, who focus on skin care.
Usually, you’ll be referred to a specialist when your personal doctor wants you to check on specific issues or problems. You’ll also be sent to a specialist when you’re diagnosed with something serious, like a heart condition or cancer, or if you find out you’re pregnant.
A surgeon is a doctor who is qualified to perform surgery, and they have their own specialties. If you have a heart attack and need surgery, your surgeon will be an expert in heart surgery.
If you’re sent to the ER because of an emergency or diagnosed with a condition or disease, you might be sent into surgery. But if you need a minor procedure, like having your wisdom teeth out, you’re seeing a surgeon too.
A hospitalist is a dedicated, in-patient doctor who works only in a hospital or network of hospitals. If you’re taken to the hospital in an emergency or accident, you might be treated by a hospitalist.
Help with Your Care
Care coordinators help you figure out your health care in lots of ways, especially after a hospital stay, diagnosis, or if you have a chronic or complex condition.
They can help provide you with resources, educational materials, and self-care techniques, help you understand your doctor’s instructions, connect you to resources in your community, and help you plan for the future.
Health coaches can help you or your family plan for better health. Our health coaches can help you get the best care possible from your healthcare team and get the most from your coverage.
You might get help handling your care from a nurse navigator when you’re discharged from the hospital if you get a serious diagnosis. For example, a cardiac nurse navigator will help patients with a primary diagnosis of heart failure or myocardial infarction.
They will usually start the process by visiting you before you leave the hospital, then they’ll stay in-touch to walk you through the first 30 days after discharge.
Nurse navigators can help you organize your appointments, connect you to education on your diagnosis, medications, exercise, diet, therapies, and when to call the doctor. And they might host support groups that can help people like you.
Other Kinds of Care
Home Health Care
Home health care is medical care, treatment, or skilled care you can get in your home. You doctor might recommend this in situations where care in your own home will be easier for your case and condition.
Skilled Nursing Facility
You doctor might order medical care that must be given or supervised by a licensed health care professional in a skilled nursing facility. This type of care could include:
- X-rays and other radiology services
- Physical, occupational, and speech therapy
- Storage and administration of blood
- Use of appliances, like wheelchairs
- Meals, including special diets
- A semiprivate room or private room if medically necessary
Hospice care is special care for people who are terminally ill, including medical and physical care and help with social, emotional, and spiritual needs. It also provides support for family and caregivers.
Pharmacists are healthcare professionals who practice pharmacy, which focuses on safe and effective medication use. You might not think about your pharmacist’s skillset when you pick up your drugs at the pharmacy, but they’re trained to know how drugs work.
They know which drugs can interact to protect you from dangerous drug combinations, they can explain the side effects of your drug to you, and they make sure you’re getting the right dosage of your drugs on the right schedule.
Social workers are there to help you with social problems that can affect your quality of life and health care. They can help you and connect you to resources for domestic violence, sexual assault, abuse and neglect, housing and food insecurity, home-delivered meals, substance abuse, mental health issues, advance directives, and more.
A medical director is a leader who recruits and manages doctors, nurses, and other personnel. They also examine and coordinate processes within their organizations to improve and guarantee the medical quality of the facility.
If you need to find covered providers, use our Find a Doctor or Hospital tool to search for covered doctors, hospitals, and more.