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What is Family Medicine?

Defining the Specialty

The specialty of family medicine is centered on lasting, caring relationships with patients and their families. Family physicians integrate the biological, clinical and behavioral sciences to provide continuing and comprehensive health care. The scope of family medicine encompasses all ages, sexes, each organ system and every disease entity. Read more about the history, scope and definition of family medicine by reviewing the following resources.

Value and Scope of Family Medicine

Research shows that countries that emphasize primary care have better health outcomes at lower costs. As the U.S. struggles to improve health care delivery, it is clear that primary care providers, especially family physicians, are key to a more effective system.

Primary Care Defined

The Institute of Medicine defines primary care as "the provision of integrated, accessible health care services by clinicians who are accountable for addressing a large majority of personal health care needs, developing a sustained partnership with patients, and practicing in the context of family and community." According to a 2008 report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO), research shows that "the nation's over reliance on specialty care services, at the expense of primary care, leads to a health care system that is less efficient." The GAO also acknowledges that there is research showing that "preventive care, care coordination for the chronically ill, and continuity of care - all hallmarks of primary care medicine - can achieve better health outcomes and cost savings."

Simply put, primary care is the backbone of the health care system. Utilizing primary care physicians puts an emphasis on the physician-patient relationship by shifting the focus from physician-centered care to patient-centered care.

Scope of Family Medicine

Of the primary care specialties (family medicine, general internal medicine and pediatrics), family physicians provide the most care - managing nearly one-fourth of all primary care visits. Given the scope of family medicine, this comes as no surprise.

Family medicine is a three-dimensional specialty, incorporating (1) knowledge, (2) skill and (3) process. At the center of the process element is the patient-physician relationship with the patient viewed in the context of the family. It is the extent to which this relationship is valued, developed, nurtured and maintained that distinguishes family medicine from all other specialties.

Family physicians integrate the biological, clinical and behavioral sciences to provide continuing and comprehensive health care. Unlike pediatricians, who only provide care for children, and internists, who only provide care for adults, family medicine encompasses all ages, sexes, each organ system and every disease entity. Family physicians also pay special attention to their patients' lives within the context of family and the community. While there are similarities between family medicine and the other primary care specialties, family physicians have an unprecedented opportunity to have an impact on the health of an individual patient over that person's entire lifetime.

Link:
Responses to medical students' frequently asked questions about family medicine. McGaha AL, Garrett E, Jobe AC, et al. Am Fam Physician. 2007;76(1):99-106.

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