Understanding the Three Levels of Health Care

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nurse holding the patient's hand

When people get sick and go to the hospital, they rarely think about what goes on behind the scenes of the care they receive. All that matters is they get the attention they need that can help them on the road to recovery. However, providing and maintaining a high level of health care requires a well-functioning system upheld by trained professionals. Without clear guidelines and processes, chaos can reign in the hospital, which can endanger lives.

A sound health care system can be compared to a safe and reliable highway with a professionally done asphalt paving. Everyday citizens have no complaints when they have a smooth end-to-end ride, from the moment they enter until they leave. They trust the hospitals because there are no potholes, in the metaphorical sense, that will cause complications and roadblocks.

Due to a lot of factors such as availability of resources, medical systems can differ among countries, localities, and even hospitals in the same areas. However, there is a universal agreement on the three levels of health care an individual can receive depending on the severity of their sickness.

Primary Care: The Gatekeepers

Everyone first goes through primary care, usually in the form of a medical consultation with a general practitioner or physician. These doctors deal with the broadest scope of diseases, from allergies and the flu to broken bones and an irritating skin rash. Their job is to gauge the seriousness of what the patient is feeling and deciding whether they need more specialized treatment.

Primary care aims to cater to treatable problems so that the specialists in secondary care can focus on more complicated cases. The hospital, after all, has limited resources they should manage prudently. Primary care providers have been found as an essential foundation for the health care system.

doctor on the phone

Secondary Care: The Specialists

The second level of care is reserved for patients with diseases that need to be looked at by specialists — doctors focusing on a particular system of the body or special condition. Some examples include endocrinologists who know the ins and outs of hormone systems and cardiologists who deal with matters of the heart and blood vessels. Sometimes, patients see more than one specialist if their symptoms affect multiple areas of the body.

Secondary care providers usually don’t have the first contact with the patient, waiting for a referral from the early stage. In advanced countries, individuals are not allowed to go directly to medical specialists, whether they have private insurance or part of the government’s health insurance policy.

Tertiary Care: The Last Referrals

Patients under tertiary care are most often hospitalized or receive long-term treatment. Sometimes, they are transferred to tertiary care hospitals that have highly specialized equipment and doctors available. Invasive and advanced procedures such as heart surgeries and hemodialysis are considered as part of tertiary care. Small local hospitals don’t have the resources to handle such cases, and they shouldn’t as primary or secondary care providers.

Having three different levels of care helps hospitals manage the influx of patients with varying health conditions. This system ensures that everyone can be given the proper care and attention they deserve.

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