Family doctors need to treat their patients like, well, family

In the office of my family practice, hidden from the view of patients, is a sign along the edge of the counter for my staff to see each day.

It reads: “Treat every patient like family.”

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It’s at the heart of our daily work: to give every individual the care and consideration we would want for a best friend or family member.

If you’re seeing unfamiliar health-care providers and worry that they may have rushed to the wrong diagnosis, ask yourself two questions. What else could it be? What’s the worse thing it could be?

This may open clinical minds prematurely closed with the pressure of time.

If you’re not sure about the management of your concern, ask, “What would you recommend to your mother (brother or child)?”

This might remind the health-care provider what should be obvious – that you are a precious individual – someone else’s best friend and loved one.

I remember the moment I knew I wanted to be a doctor.

I was in Grade 6 and hospitalized for a painful case of rheumatoid arthritis. On the pediatric ward of Burnaby Hospital, I felt that the caring nurses and doctors were treating me as a whole person and not just my condition, and I knew I wanted to do this work when I grew up.

The doctors appeared to have the easier job and it seemed that everything the doctors ever told me I had already read about in my family’s medical encyclopedia.

That’s how I chose medicine.

I chose family practice, though I considered pediatrics, obstetrics and psychiatry.

Family practice is a unique specialty. We don’t treat particular diseases or organ systems for a limited period of time. Rather, we treat the whole person over many years. The family doctor sees the medical condition only in the context of the rest of the individual’s life including their important relationships.

I expected it to be a more satisfying calling, nurturing my relationship with each patient over time while working together in attending to that individual’s wellbeing. Guiding and advocating for my patients through health, illness, the ups and downs of their personal lives, we earn trust and confidence over many years.

I spend many hours each week counselling my patients through the challenging times in their lives. My clinic and sleep schedules are still interrupted by the delivery of babies. It is gratifying guiding patients I have known for years through the most exciting times in their lives: pregnancy, childbirth and the adventure of parenthood.

Family doctors specialize in the care of you, the whole person in the context of your life and relationships over a lifetime.

At 7 p.m. on Monday, April 29, I’ll be presenting, “The Patient-Doctor Relationship: Getting the Most Out of Every Visit” at the Bob Prittie (Edmonds) Branch of the Burnaby Public Library. This free talk is part of the Burnaby Division of Family Practice’s Empowering Patients public health education series. I’ll discuss tips on how to work with your doctor to achieve your goals, the key information you need to know about every prescription, test and treatment, what you should know about your medical history, and the key screening tests adults should have at different ages. As space is limited, please register online bpl.bc.ca, at any BPL information desk or by phoning 604-436-5400.

Dr. Davidicus Wong is a family physician. His Healthwise Column appears regularly in this paper. For more on achieving your positive potential in life, read his blog at davidicuswong.wordpress.com.

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