What is the Role of an Infectious Disease Specialist?

What is the Role of an Infectious Disease SpecialistThe role of an infectious disease (ID) specialist is an important one in that he or she is trained to assist doctors of every field of medicine and surgery. Along with understanding every facet of the body, its functions, and its organs, ID doctors must be master epidemiologists. Knowing the 5 W’s of health and disease conditions in defined populations, reviewing the patient’s history, studying lab results, and applying historical perspectives are essential tools all infectious disease doctors must utilize.

Education and Training

An infectious disease specialist is considered a doctor of internal medicine who is an expert in identifying and treating contagious diseases. After completing four years of medical school and three years of postgraduate training, ID specialists complete an additional two to three years of education in infectious diseases. These last two to three years of specialized instruction are critical to the aptitude of an ID specialist in that this instruction focuses on all the known infections caused by bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites. Specialized training in infectious diseases also covers the use of antibiotics and their effects, the science of how the body battles infection (immunology), and the history of how infections spread (epidemiology). For more information, please see: How Can I Pursue a Career in Infectious Disease?

Specific Job Function

While most people are aware that communicable diseases exist, most of them do not know how they are caught or what type of doctor to consult if one is contracted. Typically, a person’s primary physician will determine whether an ID specialist should be contacted to diagnose a patient’s medical condition. If called upon, an ID doctor reviews a patient’s medical data, conducts a physical examination, and counsels all doctors involved in the patient’s care. ID doctors will also order X-rays and blood samples to be taken.

ID doctors may also be called upon to examine people traveling to and from countries where there is an increased risk of catching an infection. The latest Ebola outbreak in West Africa has become a concern in the U.S. since two American citizens who have contracted Ebola while working in West Africa have been transported back to the U.S. This is the first time anyone infected with Ebola, one of the world’s deadliest diseases, has been brought to the United States. Dr. Jay Varkey, an infectious disease specialist, has been called in to consult on the case of Dr. Kent Brantly. Dr. Brantly is the missionary doctor who contracted Ebola and is being treated at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, Georgia. To learn additional information on how infectious diseases specialists are assisting with the Ebola epidemic and protecting themselves while doing so, go to Time.com.

When Does a Patient Need an ID Specialist?

A patient’s primary care doctor or a hospital’s on-staff physician will refer a patient to an ID specialist when the doctor needs help with the following:

  • Diagnosis of an infection
  • A high fever that lingers for an extended period
  • A patient’s lack of response to treatment
  • Treating patients with communicable diseases, such as HIV/AIDS
  • Caring for a patient who has developed an infection while hospitalized

While people rely on doctors to provide medical miracles, doctors rely on ID specialists to help diagnose the tough medical cases. A recent report published in Clinical Infectious Diseases, compiled from Medicare data from close to 130,000 patient cases, concluded that patients who consult an ID specialist are less likely to die in the hospital or develop complications after discharge. The role of an infectious disease specialist is invaluable. They are the unsung heroes of the medical profession.