You have symptoms, and your doctor has diagnosed you with something. Now what?
You may need to work with more than one health care expert for treatment and care. They'll join forces to give you the help you need. Each member of your team has a special role. Some treat or diagnose your illness. Others will take care of your physical and emotional needs.
Doctors and specialists: Your journey probably started with your primary care doctor. They may have ordered your original screening tests, diagnosed your symptoms, and sent you to a specialist.
From here, your care usually goes to doctors who specialize in your condition. These are folks who diagnose and treat certain ailments. They oversee your treatment through the course of your illness.
Specialists might include:
- Cardiologists, who treat the heart
- Oncologists, who treat cancer
- Neurologists, who treat the brain and nerves
- Rheumatologists, who treat the joints, bones, and muscles
If you need an operation, you may have a surgeon on your team, too.
Physician assistants and nurse practitioners: Both can order tests, do exams, and write prescriptions.
Nurses: They work closely with you to manage your care. Nurses perform basic tests like blood pressure and blood work, give you your meds, make sure you're comfortable, and meet your needs 24/7 if you are in the hospital.
Technicians: If you need tests like X-rays, ultrasounds, or MRIs, imaging experts will give you those scans so they can be analyzed by your doctors.
Therapists: You may need help bouncing back from your illness, especially if you've had surgery. Your team may include:
- A physical therapist to ease pain and help you move more easily, and build your strength
- An occupational therapist to help you with the tasks you need for everyday life
- Speech therapists to help with problems related to language
- Respiratory therapists to help with breathing problems
Emotional support experts: The stress of an illness can be hard to deal with. You might want to lean on social workers, psychologists, counselors, or clergy to get the emotional support you need to manage the strain of being sick.
Nutritionists and dietitians: A healthy diet can help your body recover. These team members look at your nutritional needs and suggest the best ways you can manage what you eat.
Patient advocate or navigator: Often, a hospital will assign someone to help guide you through the health care process. They'll make sure your team members are communicating with you. They may help set up appointments and work with your insurance company, employer, lawyer, or anyone else impacted by your illness.
How Referrals Work
When you're diagnosed, your doctor might send you to a specialist or surgeon for treatment. For example, if you have cancer, you may need to see a surgeon and an oncologist. Those specialists might also need to refer you to other experts.
Work with your doctor and your insurance company to make sure the new members of your team are covered by your plan. You may need a referral before you can make an appointment. If you're ever unsure of a doctor or a treatment, ask for a second opinion.
As your team grows, it's important that all its members communicate. That way they can share information about your prescriptions, treatment, and care.
Doctors usually use electronic medical records to record information about your diagnosis, test results, treatment, prescriptions, and more. That information can be easily shared and updated by each member of your health care team.
Your Main Doctor's Role
Your main doctor or primary care physician will stay involved with your care and will always communicate with your team to stay on top of your treatment.