Whether you’re the picture of health or you suffer from multiple conditions, you should have a primary-care provider (PCP). That’s a person who handles routine health problems like sprains or the flu, keeps track of medication, and, if necessary, coordinates care with specialists. Without that point person, you’re more prone to drug errors and more likely to have early symptoms go unseen until they develop into serious problems. 

A physician trained in internal medicine—typically called an internist—often plays the role of PCP. (Medical doctors, or M.D.s, and doctors of osteopathic medicine, or D.O.s, can be internists.)

But providers with other training can also be a good choice. Here’s our guide to those providers, and when they can make sense for you.

Families With Kids
If you want one doctor for the whole family, consider a board-certified family-practice physician, a doctor similar to an internist but also trained to treat children. That way, you don’t need a pediatrician, your family’s medical records will stay in one office, and you’ll form a relationship with a doctor familiar with everyone.

More on Doctors and Other Providers

You could consider having an obstetrician/gynecologist as your PCP. OB-GYNs provide care that women need, like breast exams, birth control, and screening for cervical cancer. Or consider a certified nurse-midwife (C.N.M.), an advanced practice nurse with special training in caring for women.

But some research suggests that OB/GYNs may be less likely to screen patients for high cholesterol, diabetes, and colorectal cancer, or counsel them about diet and exercise. So if you’re considering one (or a C.N.M.) as your primary provider, ask whether he or she is comfortable in that role.

People 65 and Older
Geriatricians are internists or family practitioners with special training in the health concerns of older people. While in short supply, they’re especially helpful for frail or cognitively impaired people whose family and friends feel overwhelmed by complicated treatment plans or multiple healthcare providers, says Annette Medina-Walpole, M.D., chief of geriatrics and aging at the University of Rochester Medical Center.

Research suggests that people who see geriatricians may be less likely to end up in a hospital, possibly because those physicians are more likely to spot warning signs of dementia and to avoid risky medication. You can look for a geriatrician in your area at healthinaging.org.

Editor's Note: This article also appeared in the March 2018 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.