doctor examining young child while mother present

Role and value of family physicians

Dear Editor:

As we wrap up Family Doctor Week in 2018, it’s important to consider the role of family doctors in our health-care system and the value they bring to the people of Nova Scotia.

Sometimes called expert generalists, family doctors treat the whole patient and must have an understanding of all of the body’s systems. This is increasingly important as they help patients manage multiple chronic illnesses.

Our extensive training and education is focused on developing the depth of medical knowledge needed to effectively assess and diagnose patients. We develop a strong scientific understanding of medicine, address other behavioural and socio-economic subjects, and complete many clinical hours in which we are exposed to a wide range of clinical situations and pathology. This enables family physicians to effectively develop differential diagnoses based on patient presentation, and establish appropriate treatment plans.

We are skilled at integrating information from multiple sources about patients, such as testing, specialists, community resources and interpreting the data/information for – and with – patients to enable shared care planning.

We are generalists who can work across various settings, such as office practice, in hospitals, in long-term care settings and be involved in care at multiple levels such as doing advanced procedures, obstetrical care, emergency care and surgical assists.

Research has shown that patients with access to care over the years from the same physician have fewer hospitalizations and better health outcomes, based in part on the relationship and trust that patients and their family physician have established over time. Better health outcomes means reduced costs by decreasing hospitalizations, re-admission rates, unnecessary diagnostic tests, professional visits and emergency department use.

We play an important role in coordinating patient care, advocating for patients, providing leadership at the practice, hospital/system and community levels, training and mentoring the physicians of tomorrow (as well as students of other health professions), and supporting quality improvement and research.

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.

It’s an honour to be a member of the College of Family Physicians of Canada and it’s a privilege to serve my patients and my community.


Tim Holland