Primary care physicians (except GPs) are, in effect, specialists. But since the whole science of medicine has become so complex, many doctors specialize even further. Specialties in medicine can range from the broad – for example, a pediatrician, who treats only children, or an obstetrician, who provides care during pregnancy and delivers babies – to the very narrow, such as gynecological oncologist, who treats cancers of the female reproductive system. When you have a specific problem or condition that your primary care physician is not equipped to handle, a specialist’s experience and knowledge in that area can be invaluable.
The best way to figure out if you need a specialist or not is to ask your primary care physician! If he or she says you have a particular medical problem, ask if there is anybody who specializes in that area, and if you would benefit from a consultation. How narrowly specialized the specialist should be depends on the nature of your problem. It’s important to remember that many insurance companies will not completely cover the cost of visits to very specialized physicians, which is why it is a good idea to not go to one for a routine problem.