Women’s health: Should you have an OB/GYN, primary care doctor, or both?

Both OB/GYNs and primary care doctors provide services for women including annual physical exams, prescribing birth control, treating vaginal and urinary tract infections, and performing other health screenings. But what type of doctor should a woman have? The main difference lies in expertise and focus.

OB/GYNs are obstetricians and gynecologists specializing in all aspects of women’s health.

OB/GYNs provide pregnancy, reproductive health, breast health, and other preventive care. They also specialize in women’s health-related conditions including heavy periods and infertility.

"OB/GYNs focus on identifying and treating gynecologic problems such as uterine fibroids, polycystic ovarian syndrome, endometriosis, ovarian cysts, vaginal infections, and management of menopausal symptoms" says Garret Holcomb, MD, OB/GYN at McLaren Macomb Women's Health Associates. "OB/GYNs can also provide preventative care for women with a focus on sexually transmitted disease prevention, contraception, and cervical, uterine, ovarian and breast cancer detection."

Women who want to get pregnant or are pregnant can benefit from an OB/GYN as they address any health-related concerns for both you and your baby and monitor the pregnancy from preconception to post birth. OB/GYNs also can provide continued care as women age and go through menopause.

Primary care doctors diagnose and treat a range of conditions and look at your overall health.

If you're in need of everyday care to maintain or treat acute illnesses and diseases, you may want to visit a primary care doctor. A visit with your family or internal medicine doctor is different than a women’s wellness visit because you will discuss your overall health and lifestyle. This includes diet, exercise, and your family medical history and conditions such as asthma, high blood pressure, and cholesterol.

Primary care providers may also refer patients to other subspecialists and coordinate care for chronic conditions, like diabetes.

"Your primary care provider and OB/GYN can work together to ensure comprehensive preventative care, therefore it is important to schedule an annual wellness exam with your OB/GYN as well as regular visits with your primary care provider."

Annual exams can show early signs of cancer including breast and cervical cancers (HPV), ovarian cysts, and infections. Whether you decide to see an OB/GYN or primary care provider (or both), women starting at the age of 20 should have a yearly pelvic and breast exam done, screenings for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), and a PAP test (every three years). Women over 40 years old should begin yearly mammograms as well.

Depending on your health care needs and family history, you should talk to your doctor about any medical conditions or concerns you have – whether they're about reproductive or overall health − to decide what's best for you.

View a list of OB/GYNs and primary care providers who are currently accepting new patients.