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Should I See a Urologist or My Primary Care Doctor?

May 24, 2016

Most people understand when to visit a general practitioner (GP) — when they have an illness that won’t go away, when they experience unusual pain in a particular area of the body or when they need to get an annual check-up or recommended medical screening. GP’s are the gateway into all of medicines specialties. 

Specialists such as myself come into the picture when there is a specific organ-related problem that requires a higher level of care.  For example – if you have a urinary tract infection, your GP can treat it easily with antibiotics. But when your infections are caused by urinary retention, it will require a referral to see us for potential surgical management. Another great example – your routine PSA prostate cancer screenings can be done by your GP; however if your number is high, you will have to see a urologist to rule out cancer. 

One common misconception is that urologists only see men – this is not true. As medical and surgical specialist in the entire genital and urinary tract we see BOTH men and women. If you’re wondering when you should see a GP or a urologist, here’s what you should know.

You Generally Need a Referral to See a Urologist

When patients notice something unusual, whether it be an issue with bladder control or an enlarged prostate, their first thought should be to see their primary care doctor. A GP can do an initial evaluation and decide whether you need to be referred to a specialist, which in this case would be a urologist. Different health care plans have varying requirements for seeing a specialist, but in many cases you will need a referral from your primary care doctor.

Patients may also choose to skip their GP and come direct to a specialist. This may happen if they had some acute issue in the emergency, or have an issue they feel more comfortable speaking about directly with a urologist, such as erectile dysfunction.

In most cases other than acute emergencies (ie: kidney stones, testicular torsion, priapism), a direct referral may be necessary. But even in these cases if often best to go through your GP or the emergency room.

Urologists Deal with Reproductive Health

Urologists specialize in urinary tract diseases and male reproductive health. Our training includes 5-6 years of residency and an optional 1-2 years of specialized fellowship training. Though primary care doctors have deep medical knowledge, urologists have special expertise in issues that impact male fertility and sexual health. We are equipped to not only diagnose urological conditions, but also to perform surgery to treat diseases that affect the bladder, kidneys, prostate, testes and other organs that are part of the urinary system.

Urologists Treat Conditions Ranging from Infertility and Prostate Issues to Cancer

General doctors focus on conditions that occur in the general population. For example, you might see a GP if you have a severe flu or ear infection. Urologists, however, focus on specific conditions that affect genitourinary health, including kidney stones, erectile dysfunction, infertility and enlarged prostate, incontinence. We also treat serious health conditions such as bladder, kidney, prostate and testicular cancer.

Urologists Perform Certain Procedures that a GP Cannot

GPs focus more on preventative care and managing acute and chronic illness. You wouldn’t go to a general practitioner to get your kidney stone removed because this is a specialty surgery that only a urologist should perform. But you would go to your GP to make sure it is a kidney stone and not referred pain from other sources. 

As a urologist, I’ve performed many procedures to treat disorders that affect genitourinary health, including prostate surgery, testicular surgery, circumcision and bladder tumor resection to remove and treat cancer. Some of these procedures require robotic surgery and other just the use of small instruments into our body. Most urologists have performed hundreds — if not, thousands— of these procedures and are specially equipped to deliver the best results for their patients.

So, when should you see a urologist versus a general practitioner? I would start by making sure you are getting all your general screening done by your GP.  They will then determine if you need to see us. You are always welcome to call our office and see if you can skip the GP visit but often times even if you want that your insurance company may not.

As men, we sometimes don’t make our health a top priority or avoid going to the doctor because we don’t want to hear bad news, but doing this can put your health at risk. Early detection is critical for a variety of men’s health issues, so don’t delay getting the care you need. As physicians we all will work as a team (GP and Specialists) to ensure you remain in optimal health.