The field of medicine today is a confusing place for patients. Though the "Jack-of-All-Trades" physician who can treat your flu, diagnose your coronary artery blockage and perform your total hip replacement surgery is popular on prime time television shows, these shows do not accurately capture the complex and labyrinthine landscape that today's patients face. Medicine has become a fractionated field of specialists, each focusing on his or her own small part of the human body. The educated patient knows what to ask for and how to ask for it, and, as a result, is able to secure more in-depth and specialized care.
To the uninformed patient, it may often feel as though a medical degree is required just to navigate the confusing task of finding the appropriate physician. What is a primary care physician and what is the difference between a general practitioner, a family practice doctor, and an internist? What about the difference between a neurologist and a neurosurgeon? Or a radiologist and a radiation oncologist? Who should you see about a sports injury and what is sports medicine? Should you travel to an esteemed teaching hospital or can your community hospital provide the resources you need?
Insurance Companies and Your Primary Care Physician
In some instances, your insurance company will require that you visit your Primary Care Physician, often called your "PCP," first to obtain a referral to see one of these specialists, and in others, you may be able to visit the specialist directly. However, even in situations where a referral is required, knowing what type of specialist you would like a referral to see when you visit your PCP is incredibly valuable and puts you in charge of your own healthcare. In addition, adequately preparing for your initial visit - from knowing what questions to ask to bringing copies of important medical records with you - will help to ensure you obtain the best treatment for your needs. More and more patients are seeking out their own expert for services from colonoscopies to spine surgery, and receiving better healthcare as a result.
Alternative Medical Practices
While traditional Western medicine presents myriad specializations, confusing the average patient, just as difficult to manage are the vast array of "alternative" medical practice available. Acupuncture, chiropractics, cupping, herbal medicine, holistic medicine and other techniques each may offer an attractive solution to your specific ailment. Some of these practices are well-established and broadly recognized alternatives to Western medicine, while others are relatively unknown or unstudied niche areas. Deciding if some or any of these alternatives to traditional medicine may be beneficial is a daunting task without the appropriate information. Usually, these services will be outside the scope of coverage of your medical insurance, however, in some situations, there may be exceptions as explained in the articles on this site.
In choosing what type of medical professional you need, you should use every resource at your disposal. It is important to remember that you are your own best advocate and you should be prepared to assume this role. A recommendation from your PCP is often the easiest place to start, but this site will provide a back-stage pass to the field of medicine and will put the entire breadth of modern medicine at your fingertips.