When To See A Primary Care Physician in Women’s Health vs A Women’s Health Specialist
What is a Primary Care Women’s Health (PCWH) Physician?
PCWH clinicians are board-certified family medicine, internal medicine or internal medicine – pediatric doctors and nurse practitioners who offer primary care with a focus on women’s health needs throughout the entire lifecycle. They have a special interest in providing and promoting high-quality women’s healthcare, education and research. PCWH providers collaborate with:
- Ob/Gyns - who may focus on pregnancy, contraception, infertility menstrual disorders and gynecologic surgery
- Women’s Health Specialists - who are trained specialists in interdisciplinary women’s health
- Cardiologists, Gastroenterologists, Rheumatologists, and other medical and surgical subspecialists who have a special interest or expertise in women may be more easily identified by your women’s health primary care provider or your women’s health specialty consultant physician. They can make referrals like a podiatrist who specialize in women’s feet. Some orthopedic surgeons may have extra expertise in replacing women’s joints as a few examples.
Primary Care Women’s Health vs Specialty Women’s Health
As women move beyond childbearing, many transition from their OB-GYN physician to a primary care clinician. For women who no longer require obstetrical or specialized gynecological care, choosing a PCWH clinican who can care for women’s both preventive and chronic health needs may be ideal. The benefit of this “one-stop shopping” model of health care delivery is that women can often avoid seeing multiple physicians. As an example women with polycystic ovary syndrome can sometimes be treated by a women’s health PCP rather than going to an OB/GYN, an endocrinologist and a dermatologist
PCWH providers can perform routine health screenings and treat common conditions:
- Cervical cancer screening (Pap and HPV testing)
- Breast cancer screenings
- Colon cancer screenings
- Vaginal infections
- Sexually transmitted infections
- Contraception and family planning
- Initial evaluation of Menstrual disorders
- Uncomplicated Menopause and Perimenopause
- Urinary tract infections
- Headaches and Migraines
- Polycystic ovaries
- Thyroid disorders
- Depression and Anxiety
- Hypertension and High cholesterol
- Heart Disease Risk assessment
- Medical treatment for other chronic conditions that impact women
PCWH providers have clinical competence in women’s health and basic gynecological care and are comfortable discussing and treating these common health conditions that occur in women. Not all primary care physicians can provide this scope of care and it is important to know that the gender of the provider does not reflect interest or expertise.
Specialty Care for Women provided by Women’s Health Specialists
There are times when a woman needs to see specialists particularly, if they experience problems that cross several disciplines, or have complicated medical histories and/or don’t respond to primary care therapies. Women’s Health specialists serve as a consultants to both primary care physicians, OB-GYNS, endrocrinologists, geneticists, and other medical specialists. Women’s Health specialists treat the following:
- Complex menopause problems
- Premature menopause
- Individualized hormone therapy
- Sexual dysfunction
- Advanced therapies for osteoporosis and severe osteoporosis
- Medical therapy of urinary incontinence
- Vulvar disorders
- Hormonally associated migraines
- Designing care plans for breast cancer survivors, cancer survivors and women at high risk for breast and ovarian cancers
- Performing CustomFit Physicals
- Virtual visits for distance care
PCWH providers and Women’s Health specialists usually both refer to allied health professionals including:
In contrast to women’s health specialists, most primary care physicians especially family medicine physicians see all ages of adults and men as well as your children. You may be a healthy woman and want one physician to see all your family members.
In some families, I have had the privilege of caring for three generations of women!
Be Strong, Be Healthy, Be in Charge!
Holly L. Thacker, MD FACP CCD NCMP and Laura Lipold, MD
Laura D. Lipold, MD is on Staff in the Department of Family Medicine at Cleveland Clinic and Director of Primary Care Women's Health. She has academic faculty appointments at Case Western Reserve University and the Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine of Case Western Reserve University. Dr. Lipold is board-certified in family medicine.
Holly L. Thacker, MD, FACP is nationally known for her leadership in women’s health. She is the founder of the Cleveland Clinic Specialized Women’s Health Fellowship and is currently the Professor and Director of the Center for Specialized Women’s Health at Cleveland Clinic and Lerner College of Medicine at Case Western Reserve University. Dr. Thacker is also the Executive Director of Speaking of Women’s Health and the author of The Cleveland Clinic Guide to Menopause. Her special interests and areas of research including menopause and related medical problems including osteoporosis, hormone therapy, breast cancer risk assessment, menstrual disorders, female sexual dysfunction and interdisciplinary women’s health.