In some countries, women must first see a general practitioner (GP; also known as a family practitioner (FP)) prior to seeing a gynaecologist. If their condition requires training, knowledge, surgical procedure, or equipment unavailable to the GP, the patient is then referred to a gynaecologist. In the United States, however, law and many health insurance plans allow gynaecologists to provide primary care in addition to aspects of their own specialty. With this option available, some women opt to see a gynaecological surgeon for non-gynaecological problems without another physician’s referral.
As in all of medicine, the main tools of diagnosis are clinical history and examination. Gynaecological examination is quite intimate, more so than a routine physical exam. It also requires unique instrumentation such as the speculum. The speculum consists of two hinged blades of concave metal or plastic which are used to retract the tissues of the vagina and permit examination of the cervix, the lower part of the uterus located within the upper portion of the vagina. Gynaecologists typically do a bimanual examination (one hand on the abdomen and one or two fingers in the vagina) to palpate the cervix, uterus, ovaries and bony pelvis. It is not uncommon to do a rectovaginal examination for complete evaluation of the pelvis, particularly if any suspicious masses are appreciated. Male gynaecologists may have a female chaperone for their examination. An abdominal or vaginal ultrasound can be used to confirm any abnormalities appreciated with the bimanual examination or when indicated by the patient’s history.