A doctor who provides general medical care for adults. Most primary care physicians in the United States are M.D.’s (doctor of medicine) or D.O.’s (doctor of osteopathic medicine) with specialty designation in family medicine (family practice physician) or internal medicine (internist). In many health care systems, the primary care physician functions as the “gatekeeper” for health care services and oversees all care that a person receives. Most specialists such as neurologists require a referral from a primary care physician.
Either a primary care physician or a neurologist can diagnose and treat Parkinson’s disease. Most people including physicians are more comfortable when a neurologist makes or confirms the diagnosis, as there is a high rate of misdiagnosis particularly in the early stages of the disease. Due to the recent proliferation of treatments for Parkinson’s disease, a neurologist’s input is often very useful even in the early to mid stages of Parkinson’s disease. Because primary care physicians provide the majority of care for the elderly (some specialize in geriatrics, the branch of medicine that focuses on such care), they sometimes are experienced in diagnosis and treatment of classic Parkinson’s and many provide good oversight and medical management during the disease’s early and middle stages. Late stage Parkinson’s usually requires the expertise of a neurologist, at least in consultation.