Celebrating World Family Doctor Day 2019
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Celebrating World Family Doctor Day 2019

This month, we celebrate World Family Doctor day, the annual commemorative day promoted by the World Organization of Family Doctors (WONCA), which acknowledges the role and contribution of family doctors in health care systems around the world.

We speak with MedicalDirector’s Chief Clinical Advisor, Dr Charlotte Middelton, to shine light on the fast-changing role of the primary care health professional in Australia’s patient-centric, technology-led health landscape.

The GP’s key role in preventive care

There is ample research showing the importance of preventive care in optimising patient outcomes. And it is widely acknowledged that GPs, who see 85% of Australia’s population at least once a year, can make a significant, positive impact to their patients’ health outcomes with the right preventive care.

The World Cancer Day Organisation states over one third of cancers are preventable. It stresses increased awareness and accurate information and knowledge can empower all of us to recognise early warning signs, make informed choices about our health and lifestyle choices. Meanwhile a 2013 meta-analysis of 205,000 patients found that most patients attempt to lose weight after their doctors raise the issue.

Meanwhile according to the RACGP’s Guidelines for preventive activities in general practice (the Red Book), approximately 32% of Australia’s total burden of disease can be attributed to modifiable risk factors. Yet worryingly, preventive intervention is the primary reason for only seven in every 100 clinical encounters.

Finding the right approach to optimise health outcomes

Making changes to our daily habits, our lifestyle and social choices sounds simple enough, but it is easier said than done. And more often than not people will not be able to do it on their own.

And while all the evidence points to the need for doctors to make preventive care a priority, the reality is, there’s a great disparity between the time that you need to do it and the time that you have in a day.

And there’s actually a cold truth behind the satirical study,  ‘Much to do with nothing: microsimulation study on time management in primary care’, which indicates we need to work an extra 6 hours a day to provide better preventive care.

Because the reality is, by the time you tend to your patients, follow up on test results, and then catch up on the paperwork out of hours, you’re likely to end up working around the clock. Otherwise your notes or results don’t get done, or your messages don’t get attended to. So how can we be smarter with our time, and make preventive care a priority?

That’s why as medical specialists, we need to take the time to inform and educate our patients, encourage them to make the right choices and guide them towards practices that enable better preventive care. It could be as simple as sharing a factsheet, or explaining the potential benefits of a sleep monitoring app or wellness wearables.

The RACGP’s Guidelines for the implementation of prevention in the general practice setting (The Green book) is a good start. It helps GPs understand how to integrate these preventative techniques more effectively in your daily clinical practice.

Referring patients to a wider network of health professionals can also help guide them in the right direction. These could include health coaches, nutritionists, dietitians, diabetes educators or exercise coaches.

Ultimately, to empower the community to make changes that promote positive wellbeing, and enable ideal healthcare, people need guidance, information and motivation. That’s why we need to be proactive, as practitioners, to use the right resources, tools and systems, to help give our patients the right personalised care, and guide them towards a better future for their health.