One of the major concerns many patients and families have is getting a regular doctor who understands their health well. But with new developments and training in healthcare, family medicine, is bridging the gap.
Who is a family physician?
· Family physicians are all-rounded doctors trained in different fields of medicine to provide comprehensive healthcare to individuals and families.
· Family physicians provide patient-centered care that takes into consideration the individual symptoms, their holistic health status, and the environment within which they live.
· Family physicians offer one-stop clinical care for patients with all kinds of health problems. These doctors provide primary and continuing comprehensive care. Hospitals such as Aga Khan University hospital have now established family medicine centres that are run by family physicians.
· Services offered in a family medicine center include; general consultation, wellness, and health promotion which entails detailed disease screening, smoking cessation, and obesity management.
· A family medicine centre also provides chronic disease management that offers evidence-based, cost-effective, and coordinated care for common chronic illnesses such as hypertension, diabetes, asthma, and HIV/Aids.
· Families can also get their regular health maintenance visits. Health promotion and assessment visits include the annual medical check-up, pre-employment check-ups, pre-university admission checks, immigration and travel assessments, and other occupational disease assessments.
How do I benefit from having a family medicine physician?
When a doctor has treated you for many years, they get to know your medical history, which helps them make accurate diagnoses, watch for red flags, reconcile your medications especially for those with multiple medications, and monitor changes in your health over time.
For instance, while taking care of a family with a history of cancer, family physicians can be able to assess the medical; risk entailed and offer timely and appropriate screening for cancer-related problems.
Family medicine physicians treat a wide variety of diseases and conditions; they can be your primary caregiver at any point in time for your children of all ages and adult family members.
In the long term, that means you can build a lasting relationship with a family physician. Having a primary caregiver means you can also rely on your doctor any time including during emergencies to attend to you.
· Ease of referral to specialist doctors when needed
At times, some chronic life-threatening conditions require the expertise of a specific specialty doctor for conditions like heart disease, cancer, or any other serious concern including surgery. In such cases, your family physician can recommend an equally good and experienced specialist better known to them for ease of follow-up on your health. The family physicians also act as your advocate as you navigate your health care journey. Additionally, the family physician coordinates your care with other specialists to ensure coordinated and non-fragmented care.
· Reduces misdiagnosis
Having a primary caregiver and their opportunity to understand the history of their patients’ and family health is critical in prescribing the correct diagnostic tests to arrive at the correct and timely diagnosis. This reduces instances of misdiagnosis and poor health outcomes.
· Reduces hospitalisations
Family medicine focuses on disease prevention and health promotion in the process of care delivery by identifying disease risk factors and red flags for complicated illnesses. Through this coupled with the ability of family physicians to accurately diagnose the patient's condition based on a history of care medical information, disease deteriorations can be identified early and corrected and the patient avoids hospitalisation in some instances. Family medicine can, therefore, play a big patient in providing cost-effective and competent care.
· Competent family and community care
A family physician as they see the individual in their health journey always pays attention to how the individual's illness affects the family and community at large. The family physician also looks at family and community influences on the individual's health.
This family and community-oriented approach inherent in Family Medicine Practice ensures that the care provided by a family physician does not only improve the individual health's outcome but also the family and community at large.
Dr Shabani is the Chair of the Family Medicine Department at Aga Khan University Hospital, Nairobi.