An infectious disease (ID) specialist is a physician with advanced training in the diagnosis and treatment of illnesses caused by microorganisms or germs. Because their training and experience cover a unique cross-section of medicine, ID specialists often are asked to evaluate and oversee challenging cases. ID specialists practice both in hospitals and in office settings.
ID physicians undergo nine to ten years of education and training. After four years of medical school, he or she spent three more years being trained as a doctor of internal medicine. This is followed by two to three years of specialized training in infectious diseases. All Lahey Clinic ID specialists also are board certified, which means they have passed an examination by the American Board of Internal Medicine and are certified in both internal medicine and infectious diseases.
ID specialists diagnose and treat conditions resulting from all types of infections, including those caused by germs such as bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites. These microscopic organisms penetrate the body's natural barriers and multiply, creating symptoms ranging from sore throat and fever (as in the case of strep throat) to more serious and even deadly problems (such as AIDS or meningitis). ID specialists also see patients to determine whether their symptoms are due infection. Most commonly, the patient has a fever.
Not all infectious diseases require you to see an ID specialist. Your primary care physician can treat many common infections, but your doctor might refer you to an ID specialist in cases where an infection is difficult to diagnose, is accompanied by a high fever or does not respond to treatment. The specialized training and diagnostic tools of the ID specialist can help determine the cause of your infection and the best approach to treatment. ID specialists also see healthy people who plan to travel to foreign countries or locations where infection risk is higher. In these cases, ID specialists can help determine whether special immunizations or other preventive measures are necessary to protect travelers from disease.
ID specialists are like medical detectives. They examine difficult cases, looking for clues to identify the culprit and solve the problem. If you are in the hospital or ICU with a severe illness, you may not be aware of your ID specialist's visits, constant attention and care. Much of their work is done behind the scenes. Examining germs carefully under the microscope, ID specialists make a diagnosis and coordinate a plan to treat your disease. They review your medical data, including X-rays and laboratory reports such as blood work and culture data, and may also perform a physical exam to help determine the cause of the problem. ID specialists often order laboratory tests to examine samples of blood and other body fluids or cultures from wounds. A blood serum analysis can help the ID specialist detect antibodies that indicate the type of infection you have. Often these advanced studies can further explain the results of earlier tests, helping to pinpoint the problem. Treatments consist of medicines-usually antibiotics-to help battle the infection and prevent it from returning. These medicines may be given to you orally (in the form of pills or liquids) or administered directly into your veins, via an IV tube. Many ID specialists have IV antibiotic therapy available in their offices, which decreases the likelihood that the patient will need to be hospitalized. ID specialists do not perform surgical procedures.
The ID specialist works with your personal physician to determine which diagnostic tests are appropriate. If treatment is necessary, your doctor and the ID specialist will work together to develop a treatment plan best suited to your needs. Often you will be asked to return to the ID specialist for a follow-up visit. This allows the specialist to check on your progress, confirm that the infection is gone, and help prevent it from coming back. If you acquire an infection while in the hospital, the ID specialist will work with other hospital physicians to help direct your care. The specialist also might provide follow-up care after you go home.
Generally, your doctor will request a consultation with an infectious disease (ID) specialist due to the complicated nature of your illness. For your health and safety, you should follow your doctor's instructions to make this appointment. If you are making your own appointment at Lahey Clinic, call the Appointment Office at 781-744-8000 (hours of operation: 7:45 AM to 7 PM Monday through Thursday; and 7:45 AM to 5 PM on Friday). Some insurance plans require you to obtain a referral from your primary care physician prior to being seen by an ID specialist. This referral should be obtained after you make your appointment at Lahey Clinic and before you see the specialist.
Be sure to give your ID specialist all medical records related to your condition, including X-rays, laboratory reports, hospital discharge summary (if you were hospitalized) and immunization records. Often your personal physician will forward this information to the specialist before your scheduled appointment. You should also provide the ID specialist with a complete list of all medications you are taking and any allergies you have. This list should include over-the-counter (nonprescription) medications, as well. Also, be sure to tell the ID specialist if you are taking birth control pills; some antibiotics may interfere with the effectiveness of oral contraceptives. Adapted from http://www.idsociety.org/Content.aspx?id=3956