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Specialties & Sub-specialties in Medicine: Are you seeing the right doctor?

Doctors performing an operation


Introduction

The human body is complex, and the realm of health and medicine is just as vast and extensive. Although all doctors share the same goal of helping you get better and stay healthy, they each have their own skillset and expertise, or specialities. Some doctors opt to further their practice within the area of their specialty and focus on more specific conditions, structures or treatments — these are called subspecialties. 

For example, you could have two cardiologists who both specialise in matters of heart health (cardiology), but one could sub-specialise in interventional cardiology, while the other in electrophysiology and pacing — just like how a house would need a plumber and an electrician.

Under the same analogy, if your child had heart issues and needed treatment, would you go to a paediatric cardiologist or would you go to an interventional cardiologist? Understandably, it can be confusing. 

In Singapore, there are 49 recognised clinical specialties in the medical field, ranging from Anaesthesiology to Urology [1]. 

Each specialty branches out into sub-specialties,with over 100 different sub-specialties in Singapore. Under Cardiology, the doctor could specialise in anything from clinical cardiology to electrophysiology or heart failures and transplants. 


Why do doctors have sub-specialties?

To ensure the best patient care, sub-specialties allow doctors to narrow down their focus on specific areas of their specialty, allowing them in-depth knowledge and enabling them to treat complex health problems that they may not have been able to without subspecialising.

After completing their medical training, doctors can undergo fellowships and residencies to train in their subspecialty of choice. Doctors can even opt to have dual-subspecialty by getting the appropriate training. 


General practitioners, specialists and subspecialists

General practitioners are generally your frontline doctors or your primary care physicians. They are the first people we consult when we suffer from a symptom but do not know what’s wrong. From there, a general diagnosis is done, and they will provide you with treatment.

However, if necessary, your doctor may refer you to a specialist for a more comprehensive diagnosis and if you require more specialised and treatment. A specialist may refer you to a subspecialist if you have a specific or complex condition that needs further diagnosis. 


How do I find the right specialist doctor in Singapore?

There are two main ways to find the right specialist doctor for you:

  1. Ask your General Practitioner (GP)

As mentioned earlier, your GP could perform an initial diagnosis and help understand the underlying causes of your symptoms. If you need further treatment, they can recommend what type of specialist you should seek a diagnosis from next. 

The advantage of having your GP as the first point of contact is that they would be able to refer you to a specialist who would be better equipped to treat your condition. The trade-off, however, is that it may take you more consultations, and hence a longer wait before you get the necessary treatment or procedure. This may not be the best option if your condition is time-sensitive or if you’re experiencing symptoms that you would want immediately treated. 

  1. Do your research

If you are already aware of your symptoms, you could visit the specialist straightaway. There are hundreds of specialist doctors online in Singapore, and doing your due diligence could land you the right one. There are other things to take note of, such as:

  • The doctor’s background - specialist doctors' specialties or certain treatments and techniques they are known for.
  • The clinic location - you could consider the location of the clinic and how far it will take to travel to and fro appointments. This may be a factor of concern, especially if you will have to see the doctor often for check-ups, such as an orthopaedic specialist. 
  • Check your insurance coverage - you may have restrictions on which medical providers you can use and if certain treatments are insurance claimable. Some clinics have this information online but it would be best to drop them a call and enquire as information isn’t always updated online. 

  1. Contact Beyond Medical Assistance 

Here at Beyond Medical Assistance, we take the hassle out of finding the right medical provider and walk you through the entire process — from hearing your concerns and referring you to the right specialist to arranging your first consultation and assisting in your insurance claims and billing process. We function as a single point of contact for all your healthcare needs, such as:

  • Specialist referrals and appointment scheduling
  • Medical concierge and limousine services
  • Insurance and billings claims
  • Post-op recovery and assistance
  • Fast-track admission

Beyond Medical Assistance offers concierge services for overseas patients as well. We cut the hassle by assisting with Visa applications for medical visits, arranging medical appointments and flight and accommodation bookings. We also assist in facilitating proper communication between your overseas medical provider and Singapore specialist to ensure that you get the necessary care and attention. 


Summary

Knowing specifically where and who to consult can help you save time and receive treatment earlier. With the vastness of specialties and subspecialties available, it can, understandably, be confusing. Beyond Medical Assistance is committed to being your single point of contact for your medical needs. Contact us to book a consultation, and we’ll link you up with the right healthcare specialist. 


[1] Singapore General Hospital. “Specialties and Services.” Departments and Centres, https://www.sgh.com.sg/patient-care/specialties-services/specialties-and-services-singapore-general-hospital. Accessed 26 November 2021.

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