What is a General Practitioner?
A general practitioner or GP is a medical doctor that treats acute and chronic illnesses and provides preventive care, basic medical services as well as health education for people of all ages and both males and females. In North America, the term general practitioner has become somewhat synonymous with the term “family doctor.”
General practitioners may not be board certified, however they must hold a license to practice medicine in the United States. A GP usually completes a formal three-year residency following their time at medical school in order to become licensed. A general practitioner must be licensed in the state in which they practice medicine.
General practitioners practice a division of primary care that provides continuing and comprehensive medical care for a patient and family. GPs treat colds and other minor health issues as well as manage patients’ chronic health problems such as diabetes and high blood pressure. In addition to diagnosing and treating illness, they also handle preventative care such as routine checkups, immunization and heath-risk assessments.
Unlike physicians who specialize in treating one particular organ or disease, a general practitioner is uniquely trained to care for a patient as a whole. In addition to heath screening, a GP counsels patients on healthy lifestyle changes in order to prevent illnesses before they develop.
During residency, general practitioners are trained in several major medical areas including but not limited to:
- Care for all ages from infancy to elderly
- Care for chronic conditions such as asthma, diabetes and heart disease
- Care of the urinary system
- Eye care
- Ear, nose and throat care
- Bone and joint care
- Well-woman care, reproductive counseling, family planning
- Mental and behavioral health issues
- Minor surgical procedures
Although a general practitioner is not the doctor who will make the initial diagnosis of mesothelioma in a patient, they will likely be the first person a patient will seek out for help and information. A patient going to their family doctor complaining of shortness of breath or a feeling of heaviness in their chest will be searching for an answer. The doctor must then provide the proper medical tests to determine where to go from there.
Since early symptoms of mesothelioma are very general, it is common that patients are misdiagnosed with other lung diseases. A general practitioner may order a chest x-ray, but results are better read by a specialist such as an oncologist or pulmonologist. Typically, after tests are completed, GPs will refer the patient to an oncologist. An oncologist, or cancer specialist, will then take over care and typically take the lead in the course of the treatment.
Finding the Right General Practitioner
As previously mentioned, general practitioners are also called family doctors. Family doctors not only treat patients for illness, they also create caring relationships with them and their families. It is not uncommon for a family to go to the same doctor through all stages of life. Going to a family doctor is beneficial because they know the family’s health history and how it can affect them.
When looking for a general practitioner, it is best to talk to friends and family to see if they use someone they would recommend, or wouldn’t recommend, for that matter. Today, many people opt out of a family doctor and seek 24-hour clinic assistance instead. Although the doctors on staff at care centers are well qualified, the patient is treated by whoever is working that day. The doctor will not know the patient’s family history and will not have a previously established relationship of trust with the patient.
When meeting with potential general practitioners, it is important to ask certain questions. Below is a list of essential questions:
- What are the office hours?
- What methods of insurance does the office accept?
- What hospital does the doctor use?
- How many doctors are in the practice?
- What is the average wait for an appointment? While sometimes it may take a few weeks to get a routine checkup appointment, most people want their doctors to fit them in the same day if they are ill. This is another benefit of having an existing relationship with the doctor.
- What are the ages of most of the patients? While general practitioners are qualified to treat patients of all ages, based on their practice location and patient base, they tend to informally specialize in a certain age.
Be Involved, Ask Questions!
Once a patient has a doctor that meets their needs, it is important to schedule an appointment so they are able to meet with, and talk to their doctor. During the appointment it is important to make sure:
- The patient is comfortable talking to the doctor
- The doctor answers questions and explains them so the patient understands
- The doctor spends enough time with the patient