Care Confusion

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Question: I have a confession to make: I don’t really go to the doctor anymore. My parents tried to make it my responsibility to manage my own doctor’s appointments, and they think they’ve succeeded, but really I’ve been falling down on the job. The whole thing confuses me–there are so many types of doctors, you know? And I get nervous sometimes thinking about what I’d do if I go suddenly sick. When is it appropriate to go to the emergency room? Aren’t emergency rooms expensive? Help!

Answer:  Your confusion is understandable: there are a lot of different types of doctors! The Association of American Medical Colleges breaks specialists down into 43 separate categories, and there are doctors who focus on particular types of illness and particular types of care even within those already specific categories.

That’s for the best, say practitioners at Connecticut’s Regional Cancer Care: medicine is far too vast to allow all doctors to be generalists. Doctors need to focus on specific things so that they can provide the best possible care when you really need them.

But, necessary or not, the large number of medical specialties can be bewildering: where should you turn when you have an earache? What about for a skin rash?

You don’t necessarily have to familiarize yourself with every type of medical specialist in order to get the answers to those questions. While specialists frequently accept patients who call up on their own accord, it’s also common for patients to be referred to such specialists by their primary care physicians.

So if you call just one doctor–a primary care physician–and get an annual checkup, the rest of your routine medical needs will be relatively easy to manage, because your doctor will be able to point you in the right direction. You can also ask your doctor for advice for less routine medical issues–like a skin rash or other non-emergency.

Another type of care center worth knowing about is an urgent care facility. Urgent care centers offer patients quick care when their primary care physicians are unavailable, say the experts at Richmond University Medical Center’s Staten Island immediate care center, and when the situation does not require a visit to the emergency room.

Emergency room visits are, unfortunately, not cheap. Still, if you have a very serious injury and believe that time is of the essence, make sure you put your health first. About a third (32.2%) of emergency room visitors are seen within 15 minutes, making it the best option for quick care.

Hopefully this clears up a few things for you and helps you better care for your health in the future!

“Wherever the art of Medicine is loved, there is also a love of Humanity.” — Hippocrates

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