South Pointe Healthcare

What Is Primary vs Secondary Care?

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Charles Fazio

July 7, 2021

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what is primary vs secondary care

Primary Care: Essentials

Rising popularity of health and wellness trends within recent years have placed an increased importance on regular visits with your primary care provider. While this means that most people are familiar with the key features that their primary care practitioner offers, the phrase “secondary care” may not resonate with everyone. 

Primary care doctors act as the first point of contact for patients entering the healthcare system with any medical concerns. Your primary care physician is responsible for preventative care, acute care, treatment of common viruses and diseases, and referrals to other providers for specialized treatment

You may have noticed the emphasis put on “referrals to other providers for specialized treatment”, this is where secondary care providers come into play.

Secondary Care: Specialists

This classification of medical care occurs when the patient has entered a medical facility at the primary care level, and due to their specific needs have been referred to specialist care.

These secondary care providers are healthcare professionals that do not typically have the initial contact with the patient, but have a higher level of expertise in the medical conditions that the patient needs treated.

For example, a patient may see their primary care physician for general health care services, and be referred to a specialist such as: rheumatologist, urologist, chiropractor, mental health services, clinical psychologist, cardiologist, physical therapist, or a pain management expert. 

What makes a specialist so … special? 

Depending on the patients needs, they may require a level of care that is beyond the scope of expertise for a general practitioner. Specialists are healthcare experts on a specific system of the body, condition or disease. Chiropractors focus on musculoskeletal pain, Oncologists have vast experience in cancer treatment with many only treating patients who have a specific type of cancer. 

If you have chronic diseases or conditions that requires advanced and specific levels of care, receiving a referral to secondary care settings from your PCP may be an excellent choice for you. 


Another core category of secondary care is hospital care. Roughly 124 million people visit an emergency room in the United States each year. 

Reasons for visiting a hospital may include:

  • An emergency visit to the ER
  • Medical imaging services
  • Childbirth
  • Coughing or vomiting blood
  • Severe upper chest or abdominal pains
  • Sudden or severe pain
  • Uncontrolled bleeding
  • Sudden changes in vision

Interestingly, having regular visits with your PCP can greatly reduce the chances that you end up in the emergency room. This is due to the preventative care techniques that are used to identify and manage issues such as chronic diseases before they become life threatening. 

Besides less ER visits, seeing your provider regularly can greatly reduce overall health spending, please check out our article “4 Reasons You Need a Primary Care Physician” to learn more. 

Types of Secondary Care

Although the list below is not fully inclusive of every type of secondary specialist that is out there, it gives you a solid idea of how many different specialties are available.

  • Allergists / Immunologists
  • Cardiologists
  • Colon and Rectal Experts
  • Critical Care Specialists
  • Dermatologists
  • Endocrinologists
  • Gastroenterologists
  • Hematologists
  • Hospice / Palliative 
  • Infectious Disease Specialists
  • Medical Geneticists
  • Nephrologists
  • Neurologists
  • OBGYN’s
  • Oncologists
  • Ophthalmologists
  • Osteopaths
  • Otolaryngologists
  • Pathologists
  • Physiatrists
  • Podiatrists
  • Psychiatrists
  • Pulmonologists
  • Radiologists
  • Rheumatologists
  • Urologists

As you can see, going to see your primary provider for an unknown medical issue is the best course of action. Not knowing what exactly is going on with your body makes it impossible to choose what type of specialist is needed to give you or your family member the best possible care.

Tertiary Care

Sometimes medical care provided by primary and secondary care are not enough to treat the issue at hand, this is when tertiary care services are introduced. Physicians operating at this level of care along with their equipment and procedures are extremely specialized. 

Some of the healthcare provided at this level includes: plastic surgery, burn treatment, cardiac surgery, neurosurgery, and cancer management.

This advanced specialist care is usually conducted over an extended period of time and may involve complex medical treatments and procedures performed in special facilities. 

Quaternary Care

The term quaternary care may sometimes be used as an extension of tertiary care to describe extremely advanced levels of medicine or a procedure that is not widely accessible. 

This includes experimental medicine and surgical procedures that are only performed at a few locations in the world.

Most people will never require quaternary care, due to the rareness of the specifics conditions that it is used to treat. 

Insurance Provider Takeaways

You may be wondering, why do I need to see a primary care provider if I can just make an appointment for secondary care services on my own?

The reason that you need to be referred is because many insurance providers do not allow you to go directly do a specialist. Specialists are often times more expensive to cover (for the insurance companies), and they want to be absolutely sure that it is the professionally recommended course of care before allowing you to make an appointment. 

This is not true for every single insurance company and individual plan coverage, but for many insurance plans you are required to get a referral from a PCP instead of going directly to a specialist. 

Before you visit any medical clinic regardless of the reason for visit, checking with you health insurance plan first is strongly advised. 

Coordination of Care

One of the drawbacks to the secondary care health system and beyond is the potential for lack of communication between all of these other doctors and your main primary care provider. Many of these different healthcare facilities have no established line of communication where providers can talk and share information about their patients. 

South Pointe Healthcare takes a unique approach to primary care services by providing an integrated medical clinic setting. This means that in addition to our primary care specialties, we offer secondary care such as: Chiropractic, Massage Therapy, Physical Rehabilitation, Physical Therapy, and Mental Health Counseling. 

Offering all of these great specialties under the same roof ensures clear communication between all of our providers, which creates the best possible treatment plans for all of our patients. This unique setup allows us to deliver the highest quality healthcare for our community and ensures that improve the quality of life in our patients. 

If you are looking for a top notch “primary care physician near me“, give us a call today at (303) 665-8444.

Not sure how exactly primary care services will benefit you and your family?

Check out our article “What Are Primary Care Services?” to learn more about what exactly how a primary are clinic can serve you and your health goals. 

Come in For Your Initial Evaluation.

Everything you need under one roof: 

Primary Care, Chiropractic, Massage Therapy, and Mental Health.

*The material contained in this blog post is for general information purposes only. You should not rely on the material or information in this article to make any diagnosis or healthcare decision. Any healthcare decision that you make should be brought up with and agreed upon in conjunction with your primary care provider. South Pointe Healthcare at Coal Creek LLC in no circumstances is liable to any party for damages that may occur directly or indirectly from information or material contained in this article.