The missing family doctor

Family physicians who treat a person right from childhood through adolescence, and then to adulthood are intimately familiar with the person’s medical history.
Representative image
Representative image

CHENNAI: Family doctor has been an age-old concept of Indian family health care. If you ask people who are in the age group of 60 and above, they would remember having a family doctor, which was popular during their childhood. Each family had one family doctor. For any small or big problem, first the family approached him/her and based on his/her guidance they went in for further treatment or referral. The words of the family doctor was final.

Till a few decades back, every family had a family doctor or a family physician. The concept was quite common both in cities and smaller towns across India. However, with the economic liberalisation in the 90s and the job boom that followed, people started migrating within India in search of green pastures. This was followed by the Internet boom, which made it easy to locate physicians ‘closer home’ at the click of a button. The mobile revolution further accelerated this trend.

Today, one can get a consultation, prescriptions, door delivery of medicines, and details about the ailment, all on the smartphone. As a result of all this, many people have moved away from the practice of having a family physician, believing the concept is outdated. However, the reality needs to be far from this. A family physician brings innumerable advantages to the patient and his/her family.

Family physicians who treat a person right from childhood through adolescence, and then to adulthood are intimately familiar with the person’s medical history. They know their allergies, injuries, challenges faced in the past, and how they may cope up to the present symptoms and conditions. The familiarity and comfort level also makes it easy for the patient to discuss confidential aspects of his/her health with the family physician. The family physician may also treat the patient as a part of his/her family and advise for or against certain medication or therapies to be pursued. He/she may also create a routine for health checkups and help you follow the same with timely reminders. As the person reaches middle age, the family physician will even advise screenings for specific diseases at the right time.

There is a wrong notion that family physicians, who are general physicians by qualification, are only useful for treating common cold, cough, fever, and mild infections. This is not true. In the process, he/she can cover a wide range of requirements such as immunisations, minor surgical processes, and handle serious conditions such as diabetes, arthritis, heart disease, chronic pain etc.

This way, the family physician is able to provide ‘holistic care’ and not be relegated to primary care as most people think. This concept was gradually lost over a period of time. Today it almost disappeared. In urban areas, the family physicians are almost eliminated. All people have direct access to any consultant or specialist. The tradition of the family doctor is also gradually declining in India due to the increasing demand for specialisation in medicine and lack of knowledge about family medicine.

The writer is the director of Prashanth Group of Hospitals

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The New Indian Express