The practice of modern medicine

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In advanced industrial countries, however, it is usually a trained physician who is called upon to provide the first-contact care. The patient seeking first-contact care can go either to a general practitioner or turn directly to a specialist. Which is the wisest choice has become a subject of some controversy. The general practitioner, however, is becoming rather rare in some developed countries. In countries where he does still exist, he is being increasingly observed as an obsolescent figure, because medicine covers an immense, rapidly changing, and complex field of which no physician can possibly master more than a small fraction. The very concept of the general practitioner, it is thus argued, may be absurd.

The obvious alternative to general practice is the direct access of a patient to a specialist. If a patient has problems with vision, he goes to an eye specialist, and if he has a pain in his chest (which he fears is due to his heart), he goes to a heart specialist. One objection to this plan is that the patient often cannot know which organ is responsible for his symptoms, and the most careful physician, after doing many investigations, may remain uncertain as to the cause. Breathlessnessa common symptommay be due to heart disease, to lung disease, to anemia, or to emotional upset. Another common symptom is general malaisefeeling run-down or always tired; others are headache, chronic low backache, rheumatism, abdominal discomfort, poor appetite, and constipation. Some patients may also be overtly anxious or depressed. Among the most subtle medical skills is the ability to assess people with such symptoms and to distinguish between symptoms that are caused predominantly by emotional upset and those that are predominantly of bodily origin. A specialist may be capable of such a general assessment, but, often, with emphasis on his own subject, he fails at this point. The generalist with his broader training is often the better choice for a first diagnosis, with referral to a specialist as the next option,

It is often felt that there are also practical advantages for the patient in having his own doctor, who knows about his background, who has seen him through various illnesses, and who has often looked after his family as well. This personal physician, often a generalist, is in the best position to decide when the patient should be referred to a consultant.

The advantages of general practice and specialization are combined when the physician of first contact is a pediatrician. Although he sees only children and thus acquires a special knowledge of childhood maladies, he remains a generalist who looks at the whole patient. Another combination of general practice and specialization is represented by group practice, the members of which partially or fully specialize. One or more may be general practitioners, and one may be a surgeon, a second an obstetrician, a third a pediatrician, and a fourth an internist. In isolated communities group practice may be a satisfactory compromise, but in urban regions, where nearly everyone can be sent quickly to a hospital, the specialist surgeon working in a fully equipped hospital can usually provide better treatment than a general practitioner surgeon in a small clinic hospital.

MEDICAL PRACTICE IN. DEVELOPED COUNTRIES

Britain. Before 1948, general practitioners in Britain settled where they could make a living. Patients fell into two main groups: weekly wage earners, who were compulsorily insured, were on a doctor's "panel" and were given free medical attention (for which the doctor was paid quarterly by the government); most of the remainder paid the doctor a fee for service at the time of the illness. In 1948 the National Health Service began operation. Under its provisions, everyone is entitled to free medical attention with a general practitioner with whom he is registered. Though general practitioners in the National Health Service are not debarred from also having private patients, these must be people who are not registered with them under the National Health Service. Any physician is free to work as a general practitioner entirely independent of the National Health Service, though there are few who do so. Almost the entire population is registered with a National Health Service general practitioner, and the vast majority automatically sees this physician, or one of his partners, when they require medical attention. A few people, mostly wealthy, while registered with a National Health Service general practitioner, regularly see another physician privately; and a few may occasionally seek a private consultation because they are dissatisfied with their National Health Service physician.

: 11/11/2009