There was a report in the newspaper the other day about how a cardiologist (heart specialist) nearly died of acute appendicitis because he and his fellow specialists could not diagnose his illness correctly. All he knew was that he was suffering from pain somewhere in the middle of the body. As his colleagues were experts with diseases of the heart, they were completely stumped by his pains. Finally, they warded him in the coronary care unit with a suspected heart attack, a couple of days later, this specialist’s son who was a general practitioner visited his father. He took one lock and immediately diagnosed appendicitis. They quickly operated on him and removed a ruptured appendix. Any further delay could have been fatal.
Of course, this is just an isolated case. Most doctors, specialists or general practitioners, have a wide knowledge of diseases, but there is a danger, as the example shows, that specialization can make the specialist lose touch with the things he normally does not come in contact with. He knows too much of one thing and too little of others. He is too specialized and is quite helpless when he has to deal with something outside his field.
Thank God there are general practitioners, or GP’s as they are called. These GP’s are by no means experts in everything, they are sort of jacks-of-all-trades in the medical profession. They handle perhaps dozens of cases of all manner of diseases every day and thus develop a skill to recognize just about any common disease a person can come down with. He can then prescribe the required treatment. If he suspects something more serious, he can then refer the patient to a specialist.
This is not to say that we do not require specialists. They are also a very important part of the whole medical setup. No GP has the skill or the training to perform a heart transplant. Only a very skilled surgeon can do it. Also, no GP would have the time or skill to do the work of an orthopedic surgeon, a gynecologist, a pediatrician, or anyone of the many specialists that we get today.
The general practitioner is a front-line doctor who deals first with a sick person. Perhaps he can handle most of the minor and not so major complaints that he has to face every day. Only the more serious cases does he refer to a specialist, but it is the GP again who decides which specialist is needed. So we can see that the GP is a very important person.
In any case of illness, it is best for the ordinary person to see a GP first. He can then assess what needs to be done. Going straight to a specialist can put one in the position of the cardiologist mentioned above. It is better to avoid such a situation.