How important are new tests for the diagnosis and treatment of diseases? Or improved surgical techniques, faster emergency care and specialized doctors in different areas of medicine?
The fact is, any improvements in medical care will make life easier for patients. But a long overdue report from the UK shows that the family doctor also helps to extend life.
Sir Denis Pereira Gray, former head of the Royal College of General Practitioners, conducted 22 studies using cutting-edge research. His conclusion, published in the British Medical Journal, states that a long-term family doctor who knows you inside out reduces the risk of early death by as much as 53 percent.
So, in this era of heart transplantation, medical advances and drug therapy, the family doctor remains the solid foundation of patient care.
I admit to some prejudices. After my internship, I spent several months as a family doctor, while a colleague recovered from a heart attack. It was a great learning experience as it was always available to discuss difficult cases. I learned that he was not only a great observer of human behavior, but also an astute diagnostician. We became lifelong friends.
After this experience, I gave this advice to my wife. I told her that if I was acutely ill and several specialists discussed the best treatment, I wanted that family doctor to make the final decision. I knew that he would not agree to a questionable treatment, that a good mind would prevail and that my life would not be prolonged for no good reason.
During my first year at Harvard Medical School, I came home to find my father seriously ill. He had traveled, complaining of abdominal pain, and a doctor he consulted could not find appendicitis. A quick diagnosis by his family doctor on return resulted in immediate surgery to remove an appendix. That made the difference between life and death.
I have never forgotten a case again. I had completed a surgical operation and later returned to the recovery area to check my patient's condition. I noticed that several anxious-looking physicians were discussing the further breathing of a patient after gallbladder surgery.
The surgeon believed the patient had lung obstruction and required an emergency tracheotomy to save his life. An ear, nose and throat specialist was also asked for an opinion. He agreed that this procedure was urgent.
When the patient was taken to the operating room, his family doctor appeared on the scene and was informed of their decision. He too listened to the patient's breath, then looked at the specialists and remarked, "I've known George for 40 years and he's always breathing like that." The operation was aborted quickly.
A family doctor can also save patients questionable and potentially dangerous tests. Today, many patients do not realize that a CT scan exposes them to the same amount of radiation as 500 routine lung X-rays or 1
For example, in 1980, three million CT scans were taken in the US Today, there are more than 80 million. Experts claim that a third of these scans have very little medical value. A family doctor may decide that an ultrasound or MRI provides the same information without being exposed to radiation. Radiation is not an insignificant problem today.
Even radiation specialists believe that some patients develop malignancies later in life due to excessive radiation. A long-time family doctor who knows about the patient's radiation exposure is more aware of this possibility than a doctor in a walk-in center who knows little about the patient's medical history.
Consider what happens when it gets serious Disease strikes and the care of a specialist are essential. This is, if, as on many other occasions, family physicians vital.
Now you want the best care and hopefully another compassionate doctor. The trusted family doctor is the best person to take the patients there.
Everything together and long-term family doctors are worth gold. They work long hours and seldom receive the praise they deserve.
The family doctor who saved my father's life will be eternally grateful. And George will never know how close he was to an unnecessary operation.
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