Tertiary care refers to the medical services received when someone experiences a problem of unknown origin. Patients with symptoms which a cause can’t immediately be determined can be referred to a secondary care specialist. Tertiary care services, however, often involve specialized treatment or surgery for the heart or other organs. Brain surgery, burn care, and cancer therapy generally fall into this category as well. Patients who undergo dialysis of the kidneys, receive Magnetic Resonance Image (MRI) or Computerized Tomography (CT) scans, or are fit for prosthetics of the face or other parts of the body often seek tertiary care services.
Consultative health care is often provided at the secondary level. One can then be referred to tertiary care services that specialize in his or her condition, or be moved from one facility to a tertiary referral hospital. Such hospitals can specialize in heart care or cancer, for example, and are often affiliated with medical schools. The services in these facilities can include high-resolution, non-invasive medical scanning, in addition to heart procedures such as catheterization.
Tertiary care services can also include bypass surgery for arteries, neurosurgery, or burn treatment. Open heart surgery is generally performed by such services as well, as are organ transplants. Medical treatment at the tertiary level often involves the use of high-tech diagnostic and surgical equipment that is not typically seen anywhere else.
Plastic surgery involving the skin can also be a part of tertiary care services. Serious skin conditions and illnesses are often cared for at this level. Trauma centers generally provide a specialized level of tertiary care for certain injuries that usually result from accidents.
Highly specialized tertiary care services can include the fitting of prosthetics. Devices like this can be used to restore aesthetic appearance or functions in the head and neck. Called maxillofacial prosthetics, these may be needed after an injury or surgery. Tertiary care services in this area often provide people with realistic noses and ears, as well as structures of the mouth including the hard palate, teeth, and jaw. They can also include the use of apparatuses to shield vital areas from radiation during cancer therapy.
Tertiary care services and other forms of health care can overlap, and do not always have to be separate from one another. Referrals may be needed for some services, while some levels or physicians might no require them. Hospitalized patients often need to be evaluated if transfer to another facility is necessary, and tertiary services are sometimes defined by local or regional guidelines.