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The primary care physician is a network physician designated by an employee (and each of his/her dependents) to serve as that employee’s entry into the healthcare system. The primary care physician often is reimbursed through a different mechanism (such as capitation) than other network providers. This physician is sometimes referred to as the gatekeeper. The term generally applies to internists, pediatricians, family physicians, and general practitioners, and occasionally to obstetricians or gynecologists.

Gillian I. Russell, Terminology, in FUNDAMENTALS OF HEALTH LAW 1, 31 (American Health Lawyers Association 5th ed., 2011).


Such physicians are specifically trained for and skilled in comprehensive first contact and continuing care for persons with any undiagnosed sign, symptom, or health concern not limited by problem origin, organ system, or diagnosis.

Primary care includes health promotion, disease prevention, health maintenance, counseling, patient education, diagnosis, and treatment of acute and chronic illnesses in a variety of healthcare settings.

A primary care practice serves as the patient's first point of entry into the healthcare system and as the continuing focal point for all needed healthcare services. Primary care practices provide patients with ready access to their own personal physician, or to an established back-up physician when the primary physician is not available.

Physicians who are not trained in the primary care specialties of family medicine, general internal medicine, or general pediatrics may sometimes provide patient care services that are usually delivered by primary care physicians. These physicians may focus on specific patient care needs related to prevention, health maintenance, acute care, chronic care, or rehabilitation.

From American Academy of Family Physicians at