What is Family Practice and Family Medicine?
By definition, family practice is the medical specialty concerned with the total health care of the individual and the family. Family Medicine integrates the biological, clinical and behavioral sciences and is not limited by the patient’s age or sex, organ system, or disease entity.
Family medicine is being continuously developed, researched and taught as an integrative entity. While family practice follows the general practice tradition, it has major differences from general practice. Family practice residencies developed in response to a perceived need by the public, the medical profession and the government for well-trained generalists. In addition to receiving broad hospital training, family practice residents receive extensive training in comprehensive and continuous outpatient medicine for persons of all ages. As a specialty, family practice has stringent requirements for continuing medical education, board certification and board recertification every seven years. Family practice was the first practice to require recertification.
What is the Scope of Family Medicine?
The scope of family practice covers a wide spectrum. At one end are family physicians who may be the only local source of health care for their community. Besides maintaining an office practice, they perform surgery, care for the seriously ill in hospital critical care units, handle major trauma cases, stabilize patients for transport if necessary, staff a hospital and deliver babies, including performing cesarean sections. Family physicians with this type of practice are common in rural areas. At the other end of the spectrum are family physicians who limit their care to office practice and coordinate comprehensive care for their patients in a multi-specialty group.
Family physicians deliver a range of acute, chronic and preventive medical care services. In addition to diagnosing and treating illness, they also provide preventive care, including routine checkups, health-risk assessments, immunization and screening tests, and personalized counseling on maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Family physicians also manage chronic illness, often coordinating care provided by other subspecialists. Many American family physicians deliver babies and provide prenatal care.
Family medicine and family physicians play a very important role in the healthcare system of a country. In the U.S., for example, nearly one in four of all office visits are made to family physicians. That is 208 million office visits each year — nearly 83 million more than the next largest medical specialty. Today, family physicians provide more care for America’s underserved and rural populations than any other medical specialty.