Primary care physicians— or family practitioners— are responsible for helping patients manage their day to day medical needs, whether it is through the diagnosis of acute illnesses or by assisting them in the management of chronic disorders. While they do not specialize in the treatment of any specific set of conditions, they know more about their patients’ needs and histories than any other doctor they interact with ever will. Due to the trust and faith people have in their primary care providers, great harm can result when doctor fails to make appropriate medical decisions. The Chicago family practitioner medical malpractice attorneys of Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers are committed to ensuring that those injured due to medical errors have access to the compensation needed to make things right.
How a Family Practitioner is Different from a General Practitioner or Pediatrician
There are over 430,000 primary care physicians in the United States, and these PCPs specialize in numerous subfield of medicine, making it difficult to differentiate them sometimes. General practitioners practice in the broadest form of medicine and are often employed by hospitals or private clinics to diagnosis conditions, collect patient health information and send patients to specialists when required. They were always considered family doctors and are still what people associate with family practice, even though family medicine was developed as its own subdivision of medical specialty.
A family practitioner must receive education in multiple areas so that he or she can quite literally provide general care for every member of a family. This education covers the areas of pediatrics, internal medicine, obstetrics, gynecology and geriatric care so that a family practitioner can act as a primary care physician for any patient, regardless of age or gender. Many wonder how a family practitioner differs from a pediatrician and the primary difference is that pediatricians focus solely on caring for minors while a family practitioner possesses the qualifications to provide pediatric care while also caring for adults and elderly patients.
While general practitioners and family doctors follow similar paths through medical school, their paths quickly part when entering residency. Those pursuing a career in family medicine will complete a three year residency in family specific medicine while general practitioners enter into a two to seven year program that focuses on the more generalized care of a broader range of conditions. Family practitioners may be able to complete their residency programs sooner, but are then required to seek additional qualifications in relevant fields such as obstetrics and geriatrics.
They are also required to make an ongoing commitment to continued education, completing at least 150 hours of coursework every three years and passing a certification exam every six years in order to maintain their board certifications. It is through the pursuit of continued education that many will be able to eventually specialize in areas such as sports medicine, gynecology, cardiology, the treatment of adolescents or geriatric care.
The average pay for a family practitioner is over $156,000 per year. These doctors are at the head of most peoples’ treatment plans and the primary point of contact for medical care, making them in high demand. As such, estimates show a potential increase in their salaries of up to 22% before 2018. Their involvement and influence in treatment decisions may make them more responsible for failed diagnoses and poor communication. Our Chicago family medicine lawyers often find that the minor error made by a primary care physician can result in a chain reaction of failures that jeopardize the patient’s prognosis overall.
The Responsibilities and Duties of a Family Practitioner
A family practitioner’s primary duty is to gather information so that the right decisions can be made in future interactions when diagnosing medical conditions and forming treatment plans. Many patients maintain relationships with their doctors for decades, and the doctor has records of important information such as allergies, past inoculations, family health history and the medications the patient is currently taking. They are also able to treat some of the conditions general practitioners cannot through the use of diagnostics, medicine and minor surgery.
The areas of treatment a family practitioner can cover include the following.
- Care for chronic conditions. A chronic condition is defined as any medical condition that requires ongoing care for an extended period, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes or asthma.
- Urinary care. Family practitioners can provide treatment for urinary infections, some sexually transmitted diseases and other minor urinary concerns.
- Ear, nose and throat care. Minor conditions affecting the ear, nose or throat can be treated by family practitioners, such as sinus infections, pink eye and strep throat. If the condition is more complicated, the patient may be referred to a specialist.
- Minor surgical procedures. While not trained in general surgery, a family care doctor is able to perform minor operations, such as the removal of a cyst or lump.
- Family planning and pediatric care. Family practitioners can assist families through pregnancies and provide medical care during their early childhood. This care includes immunizations, counselling families on their infants’ medical needs and treating infections or communicable diseases.
- Emergency medical care. Some family doctors are trained to provide emergency care and may even work some shifts in a hospital in addition to the work they perform in private practice.
- Diagnostic work. If an injury or condition can be diagnosed via x-ray, the family practitioner can take and review the x-ray rather than sending the patient to a radiologist. Family doctors can also use ultrasounds to create an image of internal organs and tissues. If other imaging tests are required, the doctor may refer the patient to a specialist.
- Geriatric care. Elderly patients have unique medical needs and family care doctors receive special training that allows them to meet these specific needs and provide preventative care so that their patients are able to live longer and more active lives.
- Sports medicine. Family practitioners are often the first point of contact for young athletes who have been injured or for adults who are on a competitive level. They may be able to diagnose the injury and provide a plan of care in minor cases, but may refer patients with more serious injuries to specialists.
Forms of Medical Malpractice Involving Family Practitioners
A family doctor’s primary responsibility is to ask questions and determine what is necessary to help patients feel better. In the majority of cases, treatment is as simple as prescribing medication or instructing the patient on how to treat the injury at home. When the problem is beyond the scope of the doctor’s abilities or qualifications, he or she needs to recognize it and refer the patient to a specialist while maintaining communication and involvement in the diagnostic process.
The most common cause of medical malpractice our Chicago family care doctor lawyers encounter is the failure to investigate. By not asking the right questions or ordering the right tests, the doctor fails to diagnose the patient or send him or her to a specialist who is more equipped to determine what is wrong. Since the path toward diagnosis and treatment begins with the primary care physician, these decisions can result in failed diagnoses, missed diagnoses or the recommendation of the wrong treatment plan.
An evaluation of the patient’s medical history can often help a physician determine just how alarming certain symptoms are and what types of tests may be required. In many cases of negligence, one or more symptoms are marginalized and the patient is treated as though nothing is wrong. This can cause a condition to worsen and impact the prognosis later on.
Forms of malpractice can include the following.
- Failing to diagnose a medical condition, resulting in the worsening of the condition or development of additional complications.
- Misreading test results, which may lead to misdiagnosis and improper treatment recommendations.
- Medication errors, which can include prescribing the wrong medication, the wrong dose, or medications that interact adversely with others already being taken.
- Failing to refer the patient to a specialist. While many family care doctors wish they could treat all of their patients without the need to defer to another, it is important to recognize when it is time to do so. Many doctors make the mistake of delaying a referral or not providing one at all, and this can cause the worsening of the condition.
- Not communicating appropriately with the patient or other specialists. Family practitioners take the lead when it comes to the diagnosis and treatment of their patients, even when specialists are brought into the fray. Patients are far more likely to defer back to the doctor they know best before making medical decisions and the family practitioner acts as a liaison between the rest of the people working together to provide a diagnosis and form a treatment plan. Once the plan has been formed, the family care physician is then responsible for making sure the patient understands the condition and treatment plan.
Experienced Family Practitioner Medical Malpractice Lawyers
If you have been injured due to negligent medical care, it can be difficult to determine who is liable for your injuries when you’ve been working with an entire team of doctors. Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers has helped thousands of clients recover the compensation they needed to cover their medical expenses, lost wages and more after being injured due to poor medical care. We can help determine the role that your primary care physician played in the outcome and secure the damages you require to make things right.
Contact us today to be connected with one of our award winning Chicago family practitioner medical malpractice attorneys so that we can gather the information we need to get to the bottom of the issue and help you decide how to move forward. We’ll let you know what your legal options are and what you can expect from the process so that there are no surprises. We also work on a contingency basis, so you are guaranteed that our services will be free if we are unable to collect the compensation you deserve.