Who’s Who at the Doctor’s Office?
Whether using telehealth or visiting a facility, when you make an appointment for a routine checkup or medical issue, you might see a doctor, or another highly qualified medical professional such as a nurse practitioner or physician assistant. Dr. John Wiecha, Medical Director for Tufts Health Plan Medicare Preferred plans, answers some common questions about who’s who at the doctor’s office.
Q: Can a nurse practitioner provide the same services as a doctor?
A: Nurse practitioners and physician assistants have advanced medical and specialty training, and are qualified to provide many of the same services as a doctor. Nurse practitioners often provide checkups and other primary care services, whereas physician assistants are more likely to provide specialty services under the supervision of a doctor. If you have an appointment with a specialist such as a surgeon, it is quite possible your initial appointment will be with the physician assistant or nurse practitioner who works with your surgeon.
Q: If I see a nurse practitioner or physician assistant, do I also need to see my doctor?
A: Nurse practitioners and physician assistants are qualified to diagnose and manage a wide scope of common medical conditions. Both provide services under the supervision of a doctor, so if your condition is complicated or requires additional review, the doctor can always be consulted by the nurse practitioner or physician assistant.
Q: Can a nurse practitioner provide a prescription?
A: Yes, nurse practitioners and physician assistants are both able to write prescriptions and answer any questions you have about your medications.
Other professionals you may meet at the doctor’s office:
A medical assistant may show you to your exam room and check your height, weight and blood pressure. They may ask you some general questions about your health and pass that information on to your provider. Medical assistants aren’t allowed to offer medical advice.
Technicians are responsible for performing medical tests such as X-rays, CT scans, or drawing blood. They send the results and information they gather to your provider.
There are different types of nurses. A licensed practical nurse (LPN) has earned a diploma or certificate and is able to perform duties such as checking your height and weight, taking blood, and administering vaccines. A registered nurse (RN) has an associate’s degree or bachelor’s degree and is able to provide more advanced assessments, counseling, and education. For example, an RN may detect a risk for alcoholism or falls and share this with your provider.