Your family doctor and your family practice

By Dra Maria Alice [email protected]

Dr Maria Alice is a consultant in General and Family Medicine and is director of Luzdoc International Medical Service in Praia da Luz, Lagos.

Unlike other physicians who specialise in treating one particular organ or disease, your family physician is uniquely trained to care for you as a whole person, regardless of your age or sex. In addition to diagnosing and treating acute and chronic illnesses, your family physician provides routine health screenings and counseling on lifestyle changes in an effort to prevent illnesses before they develop.

And if a health condition arises that requires care from another specialist, your family physician will be there to guide you and to coordinate all aspects of your care. You and your family physician will work together to achieve the best possible outcome in the most cost-effective manner. (American Academy of Family Physicians)

What is a family doctor?

A family doctor is a doctor who takes care of the whole family, creating caring relationships not only with patients but also with their families, really getting to know their patients well.

By knowing them well and listening to them attentively, the family doctor helps the patients to make the right healthcare decisions and thus treats them better.

To determine your health risk factors and be able to help you to stay healthy, your family physician will also need to know as much as possible about your family health history and lifestyle so that they will have all the tools to create an individualised plan of care.

Any committed family physician knows that the key to maintaining long-term good health is the patient-physician relationship.

Research shows that people who have a good, stable, ongoing relationship with a primary care physician have better overall health outcomes, lower death rates and lower total costs of care.

And a family practice?

A good family practice has a real “health team” including more than one family doctor, supporting each other for the best care of their patients with shared responsibility so that the patients will always have someone who knows them to help them in case of need.

Very, very important are the nurses who even more than knowing your names and the names of your children, also know how scared you are of injections and how bad your veins are to find when giving blood.

Last but not least comes the reception staff, the first people you talk to when ringing for an appointment, the friendly well known smiling faces that you see when entering the practice, ready to help you the best they can, to make your

life easier.

It is much more reassuring to see a face that you know well than a stranger, with whom it is much more difficult to share your problems.  

We could say it is an extension of the family.    

What do family doctors do?

Family doctors take care of the physical, mental and emotional health of both their patients and their patients’ families. They know your family’s health history and how it can affect you.

They are trained to care for you through all stages of your life and are trained in all areas of medicine so that they can diagnose and treat the full range of problems people usually bring to their doctors.

They know when to treat you and, if necessary, when to bring in another specialist that they trust and you can trust.

Family doctors, like any doctors should, also continue to educate themselves daily in order to have the capacity to use the latest medical breakthroughs in the everyday care of their patients.

It looks like a huge task and it really is.

Why you do need a family doctor even if you do not have any health problems?

Family doctors are specially trained in preventive medicine as they are there for you, not just to treat disease but, more than anything, to keep you healthy. Preventing a health problem is better than having to overcome one, so your family doctor will help you to make the right health choices to improve and maintain good health for you and your family. Family physicians are trained to catch minor disorders before they develop into serious problems.

Shopping around for medical care – good or bad?

Certainly bad, very bad… for your health.

People get confused when considering two very different things, a second opinion and a totally different thing – going around in the dark, in a forest of health care providers, without a map, a guide, without a compass.      

A smart patient should consolidate their medical care, health history and medical records into as few places as possible as an ongoing relationship with a family physician can ensure that you are receiving the best care.  

With the guidance from “their doctor”, patients have the power to influence their health care and its costs, thus achieving the most effective and efficient health care possible.

The family doctor should coordinate all the specialised care a patient might need by referring his patient, in a personalised way, to a fellow consultant to whom he introduces the patient’s history and his own opinions and doubts, obtaining the necessary feedback in order to integrate all the other specialists´ opinions into an optimised plan of care.

Like a Maestro … even the best musicians in the world would not be able to play a symphony without the maestro to create harmony and to coordinate their performance.    

Patients should see their personal physicians on the day they become sick, and receive coordinated follow-up care if they require hospitalisation or care from other physicians.

The cornerstone of family medicine is an ongoing, personal patient-physician relationship focused on integrated care.

I am proud of being a family physician and I have enjoyed being one for the last 42 years.

Family physicians are the only doctors who specialise in ALL of you.

Best healthy wishes,

Dr. Maria Alice, Consultant in General and Family Medicine

General Manager/Medical Director – Luzdoc International Medical Service, Medical Director – Grupo Hospital Particular do Algarve