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The Nation's Health Care System - Is The U.s. Health Care System Ailing?, The Components Of The Health Care System

medical physician primary offices

When asked to describe the U.S. health care system, most Americans would probably offer a description of just a single facet of a huge, complex interaction of people, institutions, and technology. Like snapshots, each account offers an image, frozen in time, of one of the many health care providers and the settings in which medical care is delivered. Examples of these include the following:

  • Physician offices: For many Americans health care may be described as the interaction between a primary care physician and patient to address minor and urgent medical problems such as colds, flu, or back pain. A primary care physician (usually a general practitioner, family practitioner, internist, or pediatrician) is the "frontline" caregiver—the first practitioner to evaluate and treat the patient. Routine physical examinations, prevention such as immunization and health screening to detect disease, and treatment of acute and chronic diseases commonly take place in physicians' offices.
  • Medical clinics: These settings provide primary care services comparable to those provided in physicians' offices and may be organized to deliver specialized support such as prenatal care for expectant mothers, well-baby care for infants, or treatment for specific medical conditions such as hypertension (high blood pressure), diabetes, or asthma.
  • Hospitals: These institutions contain laboratories, imaging centers (also known as radiology departments, where X-rays and other imaging studies are performed), and other equipment for diagnosis and treatment, as well as emergency departments, operating rooms, and highly trained personnel.

Medical care is provided through many other avenues, including outpatient surgical centers, school health programs, pharmacies, worksite clinics, and voluntary health agencies such as Planned Parenthood, the American Red Cross, and the American Lung Association.

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