While at the STFM meeting this weekend, some of us discussed how best to define family medicine. This is increasingly important, as there is a dire need for more primary care physicians over the coming years and Family Medicine must make up a significant part of that increased workforce.
There are various definitions out there already:
- American Academy of Family Physicians: "Family medicine is the medical specialty which provides continuing, comprehensive health care for the individual and family. It is a specialty in breadth that integrates the biological, clinical and behavioral sciences. The scope of family medicine encompasses all ages, both sexes, each organ system and every disease entity."
- WONCA Europe has a long definition (pdf here) which is comprehensive but not very accessible.
- Kevin Bernstein (@MDStudent31 on Twitter) wrote a blog post in which he notes that family medicine is very difficult to define.
I would argue that the first two definitions are insufficient. The first, although accurate, is a mouthful of jargon that does not really resonate. The second is 9 pages long--and that's the short version. I also accept Kevin's thoughts that the nature of family medicine is that the scope of training and scope of practice is very broad and individual providers' practices differ significantly from one to another. Having said that, I think there is value in trying to define what family medicine is and what role family physicians play (and should play) in health care.
Here are what I think are the key features that define family physicians:
- Help all patients, regardless of age, gender, complaint or social situation.
- Evaluate undifferentiated symptoms and patient complaints about any/many organ systems, and determine a holistic, appropriate and cost-effective treatment plan.
- Develop long-term therapeutic relationships with patients, and emphasize continuity and coordination of care with necessary specialists, counselors, and community resources.
- Manage patients' chronic illnesses, treatments, and ongoing health needs within the context of their family and community settings.
So: that's my current try at the definition. I would love to discuss further in the comments below.