The practice of family medicine is often misunderstood

ctober 25, 2014

Family medicine is a specialty with no limitation on age or medical condition.

With such a large scope of coverage, the practice of family medicine is often misunderstood. Family physicians are trained to care for a majority of their patient’s health care needs and to coordinate subspecialty care when patients require it. Think of it as treating the whole person and not just one disease at a time.

Family physicians manage acute conditions, like colds or coughs, and more complex medical conditions such as diabetes or high blood pressure, while also providing preventative care individually for each patient. Family doctors receive training outside of general medicine in the areas of pediatrics, obstetrics and gynecology and geriatrics.

They balance multiple medical needs with other aspects of their patients’ lives. For example, different specialists may prescribe a patient various medications. A family physician will evaluate all of the medications and determine if there are duplicates or potential interactions between medications and help the patient manage their prescriptions accordingly.

Plus, by definition, family medicine means treating the entire family. These physicians are uniquely trained to care for you and your family during your lifetime. A family physician “grows up” with your family and witnesses first-hand family dynamics.

That puts family physicians in a positive position to advocate for their patients. This may mean helping patients obtain appropriate specialty evaluations and care, provide preventative services or even connect patients to social services and community resources, as needed. Family physicians also provide education for disease prevention and treatment of illnesses, and manage acute and chronic medical conditions.

Patients often confuse family physicians with general practitioners. While general practitioners do see patients of all ages and serve as a primary care provider, general practice doctors treat acute conditions and refer patients to specialists for more complex medical conditions. Because family physicians specialize, patients may receive more of their medical care in this one location instead of being referred to specialists.

Family physicians in the United States may hold either an M.D. or D.O. degree. Physicians who specialize in family medicine must successfully complete an accredited three-year family medicine residency in addition to their medical degree. Family physicians are certified by the American Board of Family Medicine, which requires recertification every ten years by examination. They must also complete a minimum of 150 hours of continuing education every three years to maintain certification.

As a specialty, family medicine has also been leading the charge to redesign medical practices into Patient Centered Medical Homes to better meet the increasingly complex medical needs of patients. Practices that adopt a PCMH model will provide better access to health care, more responsibility for managing care between office visits, a commitment to continuous quality improvement, and a higher degree of coordination of care with other health care providers.

The move to a PCMH will improve care for patients, as it will provide a place for a patient where all of their care providers will work together as a team to treat the “whole person.”

Dr. Ann M. Rodden is with KentuckyOne Health Primary Care Associates.