Communications: Patient Education

Patient Education: What's So Great About a Personal Physician?

Friday, September 8, 2006  
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While you may not need the same cashier to ring up your purchases at the store or the same waiter to take your order at a restaurant, there are definite benefits to seeing the same doctor visit after visit. In fact, when it comes to your health, one of the most important things you can do is to establish a relationship with a primary care doctor, such as a family physician. That’s because in this age of increasing health system size and complexity, patients need to be able to rely on the touchstone of a caring relationship with a doctor who knows their medical history and is familiar with the physical, psychological and lifestyle factors that may impact their health.

"A personal physician feels an emotional obligation to success in your healthcare like no other health provider can,” said David Hutchinson, M.D., a Duluth family physician and chair of the Minnesota Academy of Family Physicians (MAFP) Board of Directors. "They’re someone who will go the extra mile on your behalf so that you aren’t treated like a number or feel forgotten by the system.”

Patients who have sought out a personal physician say working with a doctor they trust is key to living life well.

"Having a personal physician to coordinate my care has been absolutely crucial,” said Victoria Homstad, a patient of Dr. Hutchinson’s for the last seven years. Homstad lives near Moose Lake, MN, and has a complex medical picture that involves many issues, including diabetes and heart disease.

Homstad said if it wasn’t for Dr. Hutchinson keeping a thread on all the aspects of her conditions and treatments, she doesn’t know what outcome she could have expected.

"Without the benefit of a personal physician, I would have been forced to relate my history time and time again to different physicians with the possibility that someone might miss critical piece of the puzzle. With that scenario, the odds are in favor of a major error somewhere along the line,” Homstad added.

Other examples of this important relationship are evident in the letters patients have written to nominate their family doctors for the annual "Minnesota Family Physician of the Year” award.

In one letter, a patient wrote "at every stage of my life, my doctor has anticipated my age and career related health issues which have helped me prevent any serious medical problems.” Another wrote "she is not only our doctor, but our ally as well.”

Dr. Hutchinson describes a personal physician as someone of whom you can ask sensitive questions and who you can trust to give tough answers. He says a personal physician understands your circumstances, your values, your individual needs and your preferences.

"They know what has happened to you and in what sequence, they know what has worked for you and what has not – all of this makes a personal physician one of the most effective health resources you can have,” said Dr. Hutchinson.

Having a personal physician is a key part of establishing a medical home – a concept that Minnesota family doctors are working hard to promote. A medical home is not a concrete structure like a house or a building, but it’s an approach to offering a level of healthcare that all patients deserve. It allows patients to know that their care is personal, accurate and safe. Having a medical home means:

 

  • You have a relationship with a doctor or group of doctors who know you and your family

  • You rely on a clinic or clinic system to coordinate all of your medical care in a timely manner – from regular check-ups to specialized treatment

  • Your clinic utilizes health information technology so that your records are accurate and easily accessible to all of those involved with your care

  • Your care is comprehensive and considers the "big picture”

  • Your care is consistent with your needs and values

 

And there is growing evidence to indicate that people and countries with adequate access to primary care realize a number of health and economic benefits. A study in the March 2005 issue of Health Affairs, a leading journal of health policy, indicates that a higher ratio of primary care physicians to population results in lower overall mortality rates as well as for heart disease and cancer. In fact, when compared our industrialized peers, the United States ranks lowest in primary care functions and health outcomes, but highest in healthcare spending. Other reported benefits of a medical home include better preventive care and patient outcomes, lower overall cost of services within the healthcare system as a whole, less use of emergency departments and hospitals and a greater satisfaction for both patients and physicians.

"We really need to make sure that patients, lawmakers and insurers understand the impact that personal physicians and medical homes can have on our society,” Dr. Hutchinson said. "Then we need to work together to make sure that our healthcare system changes in healthy ways.

The Minnesota Academy of Family Physicians is a professional association of approximately 3,000 family physicians, family medicine residents and medical students organized to assist family physicians in providing quality medical care in Minnesota. The MAFP is the largest medical specialty organization in Minnesota and is a state chapter of the American Academy of Family Physicians, one of the largest national medical organizations in the United States with more than 103,000 members.


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