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What’s The Difference Between a General Practitioner (GP) and a Specialist Doctor?

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The world will always need assistance from a particular profession: a doctor. It is one of the most in-demand occupations. 

We all have been to the doctor. We all have been sick. Even if we do not go to the doctor for medical treatment, we may need to see a doctor for a medical check-up or health screening as a job application requisite. 

Most people are more familiar with a general practitioner (GP). Whenever you start to feel unwell, your first instinct is to go see a general practitioner – whether it’s in a clinic, health centre or hospital.

When a general practitioner refers you to a specialist doctor, you may get anxious. This is there is a natural association between seeing a specialist doctor and having a more serious illness/condition that requires specialised treatment.

To clear up the confusion, it is important to learn the key differences between general practitioners and specialist doctors.

Read on to find out more about what differs a general practitioner from a specialist doctor. 

Definitions of Each Doctor Category 

General Practitioner (GP)

A general practitioner is a medical professional who provides care and treatment for general health conditions.

Specialist Doctor

Specialist doctors handle the care and treatment for more specific conditions. Specialist doctors are focused on certain fields in the world of medical science.

Differences Between a General Practitioner (GP) and a Specialist Doctor

1. General practitioners have a broader or more comprehensive scope of work  

The job of a general practitioner is to treat diseases that emerge suddenly and provide an early diagnosis; this includes providing preventive care and educating patients.

Meanwhile, the scope of specialist doctors is focused on a singular area. This is for providing in-depth care and treatment to patients. For example, specialist doctors can specialise in internal medicine, ophthalmology, neurology, and so on.

2. Specialist doctors undertake a longer education period than general practitioners

To become a general practitioner, a person must go through approximately six years of medical education.

On the other hand, being a specialist doctor would mean continuing education from general medical education to a more specific field. The years of study for a specialist doctor is at least six semesters or three years.

The years of education that a person must complete to become a specialist doctor is at least 9 years. The more specific and complex the medical specialty is, the longer the education will be.

3.  General practitioners are also considered to be primary care physicians or gatekeepers

General practitioners are usually the first in line to treat any patients. You may find general practitioners at the hospital for the following services:

  • ER – to provide first aid for any emergency
  • Medical check up or health screening – to provide general examinations and advice on the patient’s medical tests

If a general practitioner determines that it is required for the patient to undergo more specific treatment, then the patient will be referred to a specialist doctor.

4. Medical treatment by specialist doctors cost more

Specialist doctors have a deeper understanding of their fields. Specialist doctors are able to perform more comprehensive health screening, as they are equipped with in-depth knowledge in their field of medical specialty. 

Furthermore, specialist doctors generally have access and the ability to utilise advanced medical equipment. They may advise patients on various medical procedures they can undertake.

In cases where a hospital does not carry a particular medical equipment or house a particular medical facility, a specialist doctor can refer the patient to another hospital where the equipment is available.

Limited medical equipment is one of the reasons people seek medical treatment abroad.

5. Specialist doctors offer more complex treatments

Specialist doctors are dealing with more complex fields or types of diseases. Therefore, they can offer more therapy options to patients.

General practitioners usually refer the patient to oral therapy (taking medications) or by injection.

In contrast, with specialist doctors, patients may be asked to undergo therapy that involve more steps, medicines, and equipment. For example: physiotherapy, immunotherapy, chemotherapy, and so on.

The Most Common Specialist Doctors

There are many medical specialties in the world and these may vary from country to country. Here are some of the most well-known medical specialties:

  1. Paediatric Medicine (Paediatrician)
  2. Internist (Internal Medicine Specialist)
  3. Cardiology (Heart and Vascular Specialist)
  4. Oncology (Cancer Specialist)
  5. Ophthalmology (Eye Specialist)
  6. Obstetrics and Gynaecology (Obstetrics and Gynaecology Specialist)
  7. Orthopaedics (Bone Specialist)
  8. Psychiatry (Psychiatrist)
  9. Neurology (Neurologist)
  10. Dermatology (Dermatologist)
  11. Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT)
  12. Orthodontics (Orthodontists, dealing with tooth disorders)
  13. Plastic Surgery (Cosmetic or Reconstructive Surgery Specialist)

Why Should You See a Specialist Doctor? 

When you are aware of what kind of disease you are dealing with, it is best to see a specialist doctor.

In general, specialist doctors can immediately determine the right medical procedure for the patient’s condition following diagnostic tests, whereas general practitioners are providing diagnoses of the disease based on symptoms described and present.

Cost and time efficiency 

When you get sick, it is recommended to consult a general practitioner first. However, general practitioners can only identify the disease and dispense oral medicines. A specialist doctor will be able to determine the type of medical treatment that suits your condition.

You can consider going direct to a specialist doctor. The consultation fee might be more expensive, but it is considered effective and worth your money, as you will be able to get a diagnosis and proceed into treatment immediately if necessary.

How to find and get specialist doctor recommendations 

Need to find a specialist doctor to treat your condition in a hassle-free manner? You can use the free Smarter Health service.

We will help recommend a specialist doctor based on your medical needs. We have over 1,350 specialist doctors in Singapore and Malaysia under the Smarter Health panel. 

If you have questions regarding the treatment costs, we can also help retrieve a quotation to provide you with the estimated cost of treatment. 

Following that, we can also aid you with appointment-booking with the specialist doctor of your choice. We are the official representative of over 20 Joint Commission International (JCI)-accredited hospitals. 

Need a recommendation, want to book an appointment with a specialist or get a quotation for a procedure?

Tap on our complimentary Smarter Health service.

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