What is Family Medicine?

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May 13, 2014


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Family physicians take care of most healthcare needs of a diverse spectrum of patients, from babies to seniors.

They treat most acute illnesses and effectively manage many chronic conditions. But in the modern healthcare system, where many patients are referred to specialists by their primary doctor, family medicine is still finding its footing as the practical “one stop” for today’s busy households.

The family physician is trained to provide comprehensive care for all ages.

“In South Florida, family medicine is not as well known as in other parts of the country,” said Agueda Hernandez, M.D., the medical director of the Family Medicine Center at West Kendall Baptist Hospital. “There is a need for increased awareness in the community.”

Family medicine wasn’t widely accepted by the medical community until the late 1960s. By then, the percentage of newly-graduated physicians entering general practice had dwindled to 19 percent, from 47 percent in 1900.

The American Board of Family Medicine (ABFM), as it is known now, was established in 1969 as a non-profit, independent association of American physicians who practice family medicine and its sub-specialties.

“By the late 1960s, family medicine became a focus again to provide continuing care across generations, in the context of the whole family,” said Dr. Hernandez. “Some of the families we see cover three generations. We manage chronic illnesses like hypertension and diabetes, as well as take care of acute problems like respiratory infections and sprains.  We also particularly emphasize wellness and preventive services such as vaccines.”

Family physicians are educated and trained to provide comprehensive care for  patients in any age range, Dr. Hernandez said. “We can offer services to the whole family in one stop. The mom, dad, and the kids can be seen the same day.”

With two family physicians, one internist/pediatrician, and eight family medicine residents, the Family Medicine Center can see babies, toddlers, young children, adolescents, and adults.

Many parents may not realize the advantages of going to a family practice like the one at West Kendall Baptist Hospital.

“We often see patients in the ‘sandwich generation’. These are the people who are taking care of both their kids and their elderly parents. They especially are looking for comprehensive, continuing care for their family,” Dr. Hernandez said.

Family medical histories spanning generations are useful for early treatment and prevention of heart disease, some cancers and other conditions. One of the family practitioner’s primary functions is to keep track of family histories or genetic factors. That function can be life-saving.

“In family medicine, we are grounded in an understanding of the myriad factors that make up one’s health. We look at the big picture as well as the details,” Dr. Hernandez said.

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