Every Nova Scotian deserves access to a family doctor

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Today Doctors Nova Scotia (DNS) in partnership with the Nova Scotia College of Family Physicians (NSCFP) launched a new position paper, The Backbone of Primary Health Care: The role and value of family physicians in Nova Scotia. The paper defines the unique role and value of family physicians in Nova Scotia’s primary health-care system and reaffirms the position that every Nova Scotian deserves access to a family doctor.

This is the first time a Canadian professional medical association has published a position paper on the role and value of family physicians.

“The paper is a product of an extensive environmental scan and research paper that DNS developed to inform the association’s position. In addition to conducting comprehensive research, the approach to the work was also collaborative,” Dr. Tim Holland, president of Doctors Nova Scotia

In conducting the environmental scan, DNS consulted with individuals from various disciplines such as nursing, pharmacy, family physicians and other specialists, as well as organizations such as professional associations, regulatory colleges, health-care organizations, and academia.

“This paper is important because as models of care become more collaborative and the scopes of practice of many health-care providers change, we must ensure the unique role and value of the family physician is also clearly defined and well understood,” said Holland.

Family doctors have extensive training and education that are focused on developing the depth of medical knowledge needed to effectively assess and diagnose patients.

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

“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,” said Holland. “This enables family physicians to effectively develop differential diagnoses based on patient presentation and establish appropriate treatment plans.”

Family physicians 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.

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 mean a better quality of life for patients as well as reduced costs to the health system by decreasing hospitalizations, re-admission rates, unnecessary diagnostic tests, professional visits and emergency department use,” said Deshwal.

Family physicians 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,” saidHolland.

The full report and the environmental scan are available online.