If you begin to feel ill, where do you head? Many people try to do the initial diagnosis of their disease themselves and head straight for a specialist. For example, if you think you have an STI, you may head to your gynecologist, skipping your primary-care physician. Similarly, if you have a sinus infection, you may look up an ear, nose, throat specialist rather than going to your family doctor. However, there are several reasons why you may want to consult with your primary-care physician instead of jumping straight to a specialist.
Your Primary-Care Physician Can Recommend a Specific Specialist for Your Illness
You likely do not know the exact experience that specialists in your area have. For example, you may call up an ENT, but until you meet with them, you will not be sure if they are the best choice to treat your chronic sinus headaches. It is likely that your primary-care physician has relationships with several specialists in your area. They will be able to direct you to a specific specialist who has experience treating your exact condition.
Your Primary Care Physician May Be Able to Give You a Better Diagnosis
You may think that because a specialist has more experience in a certain area than your primary-care provider, they will be able to diagnose you more easily. However, your primary-care physician is more likely to take a more holistic approach to your illness. With an intimate knowledge of your medical history and a broader focus, your primary-care physician may catch symptoms that a specialist might miss. If your PCP is unable to diagnose or treat you, they will be able to make sure that the specialist you go to has all of the relevant information regarding your illness.
Your Relationship With Your Primary-Care Physician Can Ensure You Are Taken Seriously
If you go to an emergency room, a clinic, or directly to a specialist, you will likely be seen by a doctor who you have never met before. They do not know whether you tend to exaggerate or understate your symptoms, and some physicians may assume that you exaggerate your symptoms for better treatment. Your rapport with your primary-care physician, established over years, will ensure that your physician takes the time to listen to your complaints and asks the right questions to ensure a better diagnosis.
A Visit to Your Primary-Care Physician May Be Less Expensive
In general, primary-care physicians are less expensive to see than specialists. Additionally, if you are already an established patient, you will likely not have to pay intake fees to your primary-care physician, whereas you might at a specialist. Even if you have insurance, your co-pay will usually be higher when you see a specialist. For example, if your co-pay to see your primary provider is $10, it would probably be around $25 for you to see a specialist. If you have higher co-pays, these differences may be even more drastic.
Your Insurance May Require It
If you are part of a preferred provider organization (PPO), you can generally make an appointment with either a primary-care physician or a specialist within the network. However, if you are part of a health maintenance organization (HMO), then you may be required to get a referral from your primary-care physician before seeing a specialist if you want your insurance to cover the cost of your visit.
In some cases, such as a critical emergency, you should go directly to the emergency room or an emergency clinic. However, in most situations, it is best to consult with your primary-care provider before seeking out a specialist.
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