What is a general physician?
A general physician, or GP, is a medical doctor who specialises in many diseases affecting the body, whose primary treatment does not involve surgery.
What medical conditions can GPs treat?
GPs treat all medical conditions, including conditions that affect the cardiovascular, respiratory, gastrointestinal, neurological, haematological or endocrine systems. Examples of conditions your GP can treat:
- Cardiovascular system
- Hypertension (high blood pressure)
- Ischaemic heart disease (angina, heart attack)
- Respiratory system
- Emphysema or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- Lung fibrosis
- Gastrointestinal system
- Liver disease including alcoholic lever disease
- Neurological system
- Cerebrovascular accident (strokes)
- Epilepsy (seizures)
- Thyroid disease
- Pituitary disease
Do GPs have specialty areas of interest?
Most GPs develop a special area of interest in one of the areas listed under medical conditions. Whilst they maintain a broad general medical knowledge they often tend to concentrate more on one area in which they have even further expertise.
What tests can GPs perform?
General physicians can arrange a diverse range of tests appropriate to your condition. These may include bedside tests such as an electrocardiogram (ECG), urinalysis (U/A), blood sugar level, blood pressure, faecal occult blood test.
They usually involve laboratory investigations such as blood tests. These blood tests are directed to the problem that you are presenting with. As well as blood tests the laboratory may process other samples such as urine or fluid from other parts of the body.
Occassionally a biopsy or small piece of tissue is required for diagnosis and this will be sent to a pathologist for full analysis.
Imaging done by radiologists also forms part of the investigation pathway and these may include X-Rays, CT scans, ultrasound or MRI. Nuclear medicine tests are also used in some cases.
Finally your GP may refer you to another specialty for some other special tests. A cardiologist may perform an angiogram, a gastroenterologist an endoscopy or a respiratory physician may request lung function tests. These results will be fed back to your general physician who will coordinate your specialist investigation and management.
What to expect at a GP appointment
A GP has a very broad range of medical knowledge and will tailor the interview to your complaint. They will ask about you current symptoms, their onset, duration, character, relieving and exacerbating factors and previous tests and treatments.
Other medical problems, medications, allergies, social and family history are also important.
Your general physician will tailor the examination to the presenting complaint. An experienced GP can learn a great deal by simple observation. Looking at nails, hands, skin, eyes and mouth may give some clues. Then examining your heart, lungs, abdomen and if necessary your nervous system (brain and nerves) will complete the picture. Your physician will now decide on the most appropriate investigations (tests) to undertake to confirm their clinical suspicions.
Helpful Information for Patients
When an operation is scheduled under a general anaesthetic, the anaesthesiologist requires the patient to be fasted for at least 4 hours. An empty stomach is important during the induction of an anaesthetic to prevent any food debris from entering the patient's lungs when he is unconscious. Aspiration of stomach contents into the lungs can be fatal. This is why it is important that a patient should NOT eat before an operation.