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Acknowledging The Contribution Of Family Doctors

National Doctor's Day: In this article, we discuss the importance of family doctors.

Acknowledging The Contribution Of Family Doctors

Family doctor's help prevent unnecessary hospitalisations

On doctor's day, Dr. Ramakanta Panda, head of Mumbai's famed Asian Heart Institute Bandra talks about the critical role of family doctors in society. Experiential data from the COVID pandemic reveals that only 5% of COVID patients ever got admitted to hospitals for treatment. 95% were managed by family doctors. Not only did they strengthen their bonds with their patients, but they also provided a personal touch thanks to their knowledge of patient history. 

Let us start by saluting the critical role of family doctors during COVID. Looking back, we can identify two major areas of their impact:-

They prevented unnecessary hospitalisations
They managed post-discharge sequelae at home.

A nation is grateful; because the above roles played a major part in reducing the burden on the healthcare infrastructure. Thankfully, India has a time-tested tradition of family doctors. Let's understand how they are placed in the healthcare network of a society-

They are the first-line physicians, offering expertise in managing common complaints, recognising important developments, uncovering hidden conditions, and understanding the context of an illness. 
They initiate the chain of medical care- managing routine checkups, baby and child visits, immunisation, and suggesting screening tests based on local knowledge of small outbreaks that may impact people's health. 
They never turn a patient away. Not only do they take on patients of all ages and genders, their most significant contribution perhaps is that they are experts at identifying ‘early signs'.
They have a huge role to play when it comes to emphasizing health promotion and disease prevention. This includes counselling against the consumption of alcohol, and smoking, the need for family planning, and making people aware of tendencies that run in their own genetic line.
They maintain a network of hospitals and other trusted doctors who manage conditions that require specialised care. This network is based on mutual goodwill and is dedicated to patient outcomes.

When I was a young man, growing up in Odisha, my family used to take the word of the family doctor as God. Our family doctor knew the health of every family member inside out. They would also be invited to birthdays, pujas at home, and important functions. As the first port of call during an emergency, they enjoyed the immense trust of the family. 

I see them cementing their role in the future as well. They will be the nodes that connect patients to hospitals in the future. I have always believed that they are the backbone of a nation's healthcare system during epidemics- as they have already proved during COVID- only 5% of COVID patients ever got admitted for treatment. 95% were managed by family doctors. I cannot imagine a better service to society at a time when our nation was grappling with an uncertain future. I also believe that if insurance companies have to become more inclusive, perhaps they have to enlist the family doctor first. 

As we evolve into a tech-dependent future, the personal touch of the family doctor will only become more valuable. They will be uniquely placed to ensure patient rights and better health of societies. I believe that we must continue to give them the respect and the place they deserve. This doctor's day is dedicated to them.

Dr. Ramakanta Panda has been conferred the Padma Bhushan in January 2010, the third-highest civilian award in India. He is an ambassador for healthcare reform in India and is among the world's safest heart surgeons with a 99.8% success rate in bypass surgery.

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