Can Women go to an OB/GYN for Primary Care?
If you are a woman experiencing health issues like a yeast infection or a positive at-home pregnancy test, you should definitely visit an OB/GYN for care. In addition to vaginal and reproductive care, many women also visit their OB/GYN when they have other health problems, like a chronic cough or the flu. But should women call on their OB/GYN to help them treat these health issues?
In fact, many women do turn to their OB/GYN for a variety of health issues. Research shows that nearly half of all OB/GYNs also see themselves as primary care physicians.
Women can visit their OB/GYNs for primary care
According to Dr. Svetlana Naymark, at Colorado Complete Health for Women at The Medical Center of Aurora, it is not uncommon for a woman to not have a primary care physician until they develop multiple health issues.
"If a woman is healthy, seeing their OB/GYN is generally okay," says Dr. Naymark. "OB/GYNs are trained to address basic health issues like blood pressure, high cholesterol and thyroid status."
The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends that OB/GYNs offer yearly "well-woman" exams to female patients, based on age and risk factors. These well-woman exams can include screenings, laboratory services, evaluation and counseling. OB/GYNs also help women with health problems that arise at the far end of the reproductive cycle, such as changes in the body that come with menopause or other health risks that increase with age.
"Patients typically have a well-woman exam annually," says Dr. Naymark. "During the exam we check your blood pressure, smoking status, exercise and diet. We also offer women labs to check thyroid, cholesterol, hemoglobin and blood sugar."
Women might not know that they can get certain vaccinations at their OB/GYN's office. In an effort to boost vaccination rates among adults, the ACOG provides guidelines for OB/GYNs offering immunizations to women in their offices. These include flu shots, the Tdap vaccine and the HPV vaccine.
When women should see a primary care physician
Women should see a primary care doctor (or an internist or specialist) for any health problem beyond basic care.
"If a woman has high cholesterol, I will set her up with another doctor," says Dr. Naymark. "Another example is, if a woman has a strange or irregular mole on her skin, I will refer her to a dermatologist."
To get the hepatitis B or pneumococcal vaccines, women need to see a primary care physician.
While an OB/GYN will screen women for postpartum depression following their pregnancy, they generally do not treat women for depression.
"Screening for postpartum depression is an important focus for us," says Dr. Naymark. "But when it comes to treating depression, I may try a few rounds of medication, but if this doesn't work I will refer women struggling with depression to a psychiatrist."
For women with a chronic health condition, such as diabetes, lupus or another long-standing disease, it is imperative to see a primary care physician or specialist. However, women should tell their OB/GYN about any health issues they may have, so that they can be referred to the right doctor for their health condition.