Primary Care vs. Specialist: What’s the Difference?

You’re not feeling well, or you have a chronic problem you can’t shake.

How do you know what doctor to see? Can you visit your primary care physician for every problem, or should you see a specialist? And what’s the difference, anyway?

Your primary care physician (PCP) is your general practitioner. You should visit them for most of your preventive care and health concerns as they come up. They can help you with:

  • Checkups
  • Immunizations
  • Common medical complaints
  • Preventive screenings
  • Initial diagnosis

Your PCP should know you and your health as a whole. They can help you with an overall treatment plan. If you’re having a specific problem, your PCP can direct you to a specialist.
A specialist is a doctor with advanced education and training in a specific area of medicine. They can provide help with:

  • Management of complex chronic conditions
  • Diagnosis/treatment of rare diseases
  • Diagnosis/treatment of acute conditions like cancer or metabolic disorders
  • Surgery
  • Experimental treatments

There are over 120 classified medical specialties and subspecialties. Some insurance plans require a referral from your PCP before you can see a specialist, while others allow no referral if you stay in network. Therefore, check your plan documents before making an appointment.

Content by Lockton Dunning Benefits with info from