Five reasons why you need a family doctor

A number of years ago, I realized that times had changed and I was part of an endangered species.

After boarding an airplane and learning that I was a physician, the passenger next to me asked, "Are you a family doctor . or just a specialist?"

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She was of course looking for a family physician and, having complex medical problems, was having great difficulty in finding one.

There are now an estimated 176,000 British Columbians who are unable to find a regular family physician. They must rely on visits to walk-in clinics, where they may be seen by a variety of different physicians.

Last month, the Ministry of Health and the B.C. Medical Association announced new programs with the ultimate goal of providing a family physician for every British Columbian who has been searching for one by 2015.

Why has primary care become a priority?

Here are the top five reasons why you need a family doctor:

1. Having a regular family doctor improves health outcomes.

This has been shown in the international research of Dr. Barbara Starfield and the Canadian studies by Marcus Hollander, that demonstrated improved patient outcomes, reduced mortality, decreased hospitalizations and reduced health-care costs.

2. Your family doctor takes the long view - your lifetime - your history, your family history and your potential future.

Primary care is longitudinal care over time with a family physician you trust and who knows you well.

3. Your family doctor provides holistic care, treating you (not just disease) in the context of your family, work and other important aspects of your life. You are more than your joints, your gastrointestinal system and your hormones.

Good primary care attends to your body, mind, relationships and spirit.

4. Your family doctor treats all your health conditions - acute and chronic, including your emotional and relationship concerns.

5. The family doctor who knows you well may be the best physician to help you make personal health choices, sorting through information you've read on the internet, advice from friends and the opinions of other physicians. If you don't have a family doctor yet, consider these tips when seeing other doctors for episodic care.

First, know your personal medical history (past illnesses, chronic conditions, family history, operations and allergies.)

Second, keep a list of all your medications (prescription and non-prescription, including dosages.)

Third, for any treatment, investigation or prescription, ask three things: What is it for? What are the risks or side effects?

You should know the common side effects as well as the more rare but serious ones. And what are the alternatives?

Fourth, keep a record of all test results. Without a family doctor, you have to take responsibility for your health records.

Fifth, ask this question: "Given my age and family history, what tests should I be doing?" (e.g. mammograms, pap smears, diabetes screening, prostate exams).

On March 14, Global B.C. will be launching BC1, the province's first 24-hour news channel.

Jill Krop will host her new talk show AM B.C. weekdays at 9 a.m. I'm fortunate to be involved to enhance public health education. You can find a clip of my first interview with Jill on my website at bit. ly/ZAd1wY.

Dr. Davidicus Wong is a family physician at the PrimeCare Medical Centre. Read more of his work at davidicuswong.wordpress. com.

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