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8 Ways Family Doctors are Different from Other Health-Care Providers

When there’s something strange going on with your health, who’re you gonna call? Your family doctor!But for more than 100,000 Nova Scotians, that’s not an option.

At least 54,000 people across the province are looking for a family doctor they can call when they’re injured, sick or need someone to talk to.

Doctors Nova Scotia and the Nova Scotia College of Family Physicians believe that every Nova Scotian deserves access to a family physician – someone who provides care from birth to death, who advocates for their patients’ health interests and who can manage their complex health needs.

These two groups teamed up to produce a position paper called “The Backbone of Primary Health Care: The Role and Value of Family Physicians in Nova Scotia,” which outlines the pivotal role of family doctors in our health-care system.

It’s the first time a Canadian professional medical association has published a paper on the topic.

Click here to read the full report.

In Nova Scotia, the future of primary care is collaborative primary care teams – where doctors work with other practitioners (including nurses, social workers and mental-health providers) to care for patients. Family doctors are an essential part of these teams.

Family doctors also deliver health care and services in solo practices in communities across the province. No matter their practice type, family physicians are the backbone of any effective health-care system.

Family physicians are not better than other providers; they are different from other providers. And they are essential to an effective primary health care system.

Here’s why the value of family physicians in our health-care system is so significant.

1. Depth of medical knowledge
In their training, family physicians develop a strong scientific understanding of medicine, learn to address other behavioural and socio-economic factors, and complete many clinical hours. The depth of their medical knowledge puts family doctors in an ideal position to manage patients with complex medical needs. That’s key in Nova Scotia, which has high rates of chronic illness and one of the oldest populations in Canada.

2. Medical decision-making
Family doctors are trained to approach the medical decision-making process differently than other providers. They determine when a patient needs treatment and when they do not. They’re used to working with uncertainty and incomplete information, integrating information from multiple sources and taking calculated risks jointly with their patients.

3. Effective use of health-care resources
Family doctors help ensure that health-care resources are used effectively and efficiently. Better access and greater attachment to a family doctor leads to better health outcomes for patients, which helps lower costs by reducing hospitalizations, re-admission rates, unnecessary diagnostic tests and emergency room visits.

4. Comprehensive scope of practice
Family doctors care for patients from birth to death. Highly skilled generalists who can work in multiple levels across a range of care settings, they ensure patients get the care they need. Flexible in the type care they can provide, family doctors have the broadest and most comprehensive scope of practice, and can adapt their skills to meet the specific needs of a community.

5. Deep relationships
Family doctors really get to know their patients and their families, fostering deep, long-term relationships. Research shows that patients who are cared for over time by the same doctor have fewer hospitalizations and better health outcomes, due in part to the trust and rapport of this relationship.

6. Coordination of care
People with a family doctor have someone quarterbacking their health care, particularly if they have a chronic illness and are receiving treatment from multiple health-care providers. Family physicians have the training and experience to respond to a person’s evolving circumstances and can mobilize the right resources to help.

 7. Patient advocacy and leadership
Family doctors make sure their patients get the care they need. They also provide leadership in their practice, their community and in the health-care system overall. Family doctors have unique insight and leadership when it comes to making decisions and creating policies to improve the health-care system.

8. Training and scholarship
Family physicians train and mentor the physicians of tomorrow, as well as students from other health professions. They also contribute to important research and innovation about family medicine and primary health care.

Family doctors care for the whole person, from the beginning to the end of life. They have deep and broad medical expertise and extensive training. They advocate for patients and their communities, and are stewards of the province’s health-care resources.

Ultimately, they are the backbone of an effective and efficient health-care system, where patients get the care they need, when they need it. That’s why every Nova Scotian deserves access to a family doctor.

Read the full report and learn more about the unique role family doctors play in Nova Scotia’s health-care system.

Do you have a family physician that demonstrates these qualities? Post a comment about what makes your doctor great.