Why are GPs important?

The South African healthcare industry is broadly divided into public service and private service. General Practitioners operate within the private space, which basically means that patients pay a fee for services. i.e. You visit your doctor and you are charged a consultation fee and/or a procedure fee if applicable.

One of the biggest complaints about private healthcare, and having been subjected to government enquiries, is the cost of private health care.

Healthcare costs are rising at a rate that is not sustainable forever. One of the key reasons for this is the cost of in hospital care, which is for the most part provided by specialists in various fields of medicine. I have friends who are specialists, and I have been exposed to some of the brilliant work that is done by specialists in South African hospitals, so as a patient in need of specialist healthcare in South Africa, you really are in some of the most capable hands in the world.

As you are reading this you may be wondering why this article is entitled “Why are GPs important?”, so I’ll get right to the point…

Over the course of time, the role of the GP, in dealing with paediatric and adult medicine, has been diminished to the point where things are often not more interesting than dealing with the latest tummy bug or cold that is going around.

While GPs are there to help you with day to day ailments, as patients, one should always remember that GPs are capable of so much more than that.

The reason I mentioned the cost of healthcare is that most of it is driven by hospital costs, but many hospital admissions are not necessary or could have been avoided by better management of both communicable (infectious) and non-communicable diseases at the GP’s rooms.

GPs are capable of a wide range of medical care and procedures ranging from the management of common, simple infections or chronic diseases, to removing your appendix, and even doing aesthetic medicine.

We need to improve the treatment of patients with non-communicable diseases such as asthma, hypertension, diabetes, and many others. The World Health Organization reports that several disease management programs have been shown to bring about a positive change in compliance, ability to monitor disease and knowledge of illness. This can be done when you and your GP collaborate.

When it comes to infectious illnesses, for the most part, this care should be provided by a GP unless severe complications arise.

So where does your GP come in? A GP should be your first port of call for the prevention and management of most medical conditions you are faced with in life. Although they are not specialists, GPs have a wide range of knowledge and skill making them ideally equipped to treat you holistically while also being able to identify when a referral to a specialist is required.

When it comes to communicable diseases, e.g.. bronchitis and even pneumonia, these can be managed by a GP, but again, a good GP will know when it is the right time to allow a specialist to take over management.

One particular area in which GPs are underrated and underutilized is the area of paediatric medicine, where the onset of any symptoms is usually followed by a visit to a paediatrician. This is an area in which GPs should be the primary point of care and they will certainly refer your child to a paedatrician if necessary.

Given the potential of GPs to manage a vast spectrum patients’ medical needs, this generally makes them the best people for you to see from the onset of any symptoms or illness.  They will either be able to treat you or refer you to an appropriate specialist for further management and care.

The best part of bringing the GP back to forefront of medical care is that it could ultimately put the brakes on the exponential costs of private health care. Through decreasing unnecessary hospital admissions and early intervention in disease management and referral, the overall health outcomes of patients could be improved as well.

So go on, give your GP a chance to prove the immense value they can add to both you and your family’s health journey. You may be pleasantly surprised.

Writer: Dr Matthew Procter

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