When someone has a non-emergency health concern, they often see a family physician first. Family physicians are trained to treat chronic conditions, such as diabetes and heart disease, as well as acute ailments, such as flu or infection. They also screen for early signs of serious conditions, such as cancer.
Many patients develop long-standing relationships with their family doctor, and come to think of him or her as “my doctor.” Over time, the family physician comes to know a great deal about the patient’s health history and medical needs. This helps in preventing health problems and reducing health risks, which are key elements of family medicine.
Family physicians care for patients in many different environments, including the home and areas that are underserved by other medical providers.
Research has proven that people who have access to primary health care have better health outcomes than those who do not. The U.S. government estimates that 21% of Americans live in “Primary Care Health Personnel Shortage Areas,” where there are not enough doctors to meet the needs of the population. This includes rural areas and areas of socioeconomic deprivation.
Family physicians help fill this gap. In fact, nearly a quarter of family physicians practice in rural areas or treat uninsured patients, especially children and families receiving public assistance. Of all the primary care specialties, family physicians provide the most care, managing nearly one-fourth of all primary care visits.