In your search for a medical specialist, you should remember that most specialists receive their patients through referrals from family doctors or from other specialists. Many have a policy of not accepting a patient who has not first been examined and referred by a family doctor or internist. This is a method of making sure that those who really need medical specialists see them and that those who do not need them do not incur the expense that seeing a specialist entails.

Your family doctor or internist usually will decide whether your medical condition needs the attention of a specialist. For example, if you have a mild inflammation of the ear canal, your family doctor is quite capable of treating it. If there is chronic inflammation of the ear canal, however, or if you have suffered a partial loss of hearing, your family doctor probably will refer you to an otorhinolaryngologist (ear, nose, and throat specialist).

Sometimes it may be difficult to determine the type of medical specialist needed to diagnose and treat a particular problem. For example, visual problems may be limited to abnormalities in the eye itself, but they may also be the result of a wide variety of causes, including diabetes, hardening of the arteries, a stroke, or a tumor in a part of the brain that controls vision.

The human body is an organic system. Changes in one part of the system affect other parts, and no part of the system functions in isolation. Consequently, the first task in treating an illness is to discover the underlying primary cause of the ailment. When the cause is found, you may then be referred to a medical specialist who deals with the specific area of the body most affected by that problem.

The first line of action in selecting a medical specialist is to follow the advice of your family doctor. Your family doctor will know whether you need a specialist. However, you can always ask for a second opinion or seek out a specialist on your own.

If for no other reason than to know that you did all you were able to do, you should try to get as much information as possible about your own illness or a family member's illness. You may even find something that one of the doctors missed. If your family doctor refers you to a medical specialist, or if you seek one on your own, you should learn what each specialty consists of and what to expect when you see a specialist. Knowledge, after all, is a key tool when seeking a medical specialist.