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A Stethoscope and pen at the top of a doctor's journal

Levels of Healthcare

Patients often hear medical professionals talk about levels of care, but not many know much about those levels. Healthcare is divided into four levels; primary, secondary, tertiary, and quaternary. Doctors use these different categories to distinguish between the complexities of medical cases and the level of care they require.

 As a patient, knowing about the different forms of care protocols can help in understanding the severity of one’s condition or the lack thereof. Simply put, if you end up in a hospital and the doctor tells you, you require a particular level of care, you can ascertain the seriousness of your condition by it.

If you get primary care, then it means what you have is not too dangerous and can be treated with generalized care. However, if you get any other level of patient care, then it could indicate the presence of a more severe ailment. Hence, one must learn about the four levels of healthcare to better understand the workings of the world of medicine.

Primary Care

Primary care is a generalized form of care in which, typically, a person is examined for a medical issue by a general physician or practitioner. Since the degree of impairment in a case that requires primary care is not too high, patients in need of medical attention are tended to by general doctors.

 A person getting their blood drawn by a nurse

Primary care professionals involve GPs, dentists, pediatricians, nurses, and OB/GYNs. Some of these medical experts specialize in taking care of specific groups of people, but their main focus is to enhance a person’s overall health and reduce the chances of hospitalization.

Primary care is the most basic form of medical attention, and it has shown to benefit the healthcare system considerably by reducing ER visits and long-term hospital admissions.

Secondary Care

The second level of healthcare is secondary care. When a doctor refers a patient to a specialist, the patient enters the next stage of patient care. In this stage, a person is tended to by an expert in the area that’s making them sick. Secondary care specialists focus on particular systems and parts of the body. For instance, a cardiologist is an expert on medical issues related to the human heart. Similarly, a gastroenterologist specializes in treating ailments related to the gut or gastrointestinal system of the body.

Two surgeons operating in an OR

Tertiary Care

Tertiary care comes after a person is hospitalized, and they require a higher level of care that goes beyond a specific body part or system. Once a patient is hospitalized, their bodily functions are monitored via medical equipment round the clock.

Tertiary care requires an advanced level of medical expertise and high-tech machines.

Quaternary Care

The last form of healthcare is quaternary, and it is an extension of tertiary care. Quaternary care is not offered at every hospital as it requires highly-advanced equipment and procedures. It’s not a usual form of patient care as it is only employed when traditional treatments fail to ease a patient’s symptoms. It might include drug trials and experimental medical treatments.

Most people only come across primary and secondary medical professionals throughout their lives. However, in case of a severe injury or accident, a person may be given tertiary care.