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World Family Doctor Day: recognizing the importance of continuity of care

Family doctors are on the front line of care--but if you can't find one taking new patients, you're getting less care, say advocates.

Calling it a matter of life and death isn't an overshot. Some five million Canadians don't have a family doctor, relying instead on visits to emergency rooms and anonymous medi-centres when an issue springs up. Yet, statistics show people with a family doctor get more timely care, avoid hospital stays and emergency room visits, and even live longer.

May 19 is World Family Doctor Day, a marker first declared by the World Organization of Family Doctors (WONCA) in 2010--a day to highlight the role and contribution of family doctors and primary care teams in healthcare settings around the world. 

In Canada, eight of ten health care visits are with family doctors. But because millions don't have a family doctor (often due to systemic barriers--i.e. doctor shortages; no doctors accepting new patients in a community etc) there's an urgent need for improvement in our health care system, according to WONCA. With a gap in primary care, the organization says people needing care are forced to find alternatives such as visits to the ER. Cancers and serious conditions may sometimes be missed in such urgent care settings--it's a stopgap solution to the ongoing need for more family doctors and the comprehensive and continuing care they offer.

Many Albertans point to the UCP government and its often-heated relationship with the province's doctors as a key factor in why many people cannot find a family doctor in their community, but health minister Jason Copping used the day to thank family doctors for their dedication and sacrifices to provide care to Albertans.

"Family doctors are often the very first contact we have with the health system. They listen to our concerns, provide a diagnosis and give us the treatment we need. When we need additional help, they link us to the tests, procedures and specialists to address our health concerns," said Copping.

“Throughout the pandemic, family doctors were on the front lines bravely helping their patients and providing assistance in other settings where help was needed most. They nimbly adjusted their practice to embrace virtual care and helped educate Albertans about how to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“On World Family Doctor Day, I thank all family doctors for their hard work, dedication and the sacrifices they’ve made to provide outstanding care to Albertans and for the tremendous contributions they continue to make to their patients, communities and the health-care system every single day.” 

This year’s theme for World Family Doctor Day is Family Doctors, Always There to Care!, emphasizing three pillars titled always, there and care. The 'always' emphasizes continuity as a fundamental feature of a family doctor's work, providing care at all stages of patients' lives--big and small moments alike. Continuity is also present in care through the ongoing follow-up carried out to patients, where coordination with other levels of care and health care professionals is crucial.

Family doctors and primary care professionals are there, wherever and whenever needed, adds WONCA. "They are part of the communities they work with, proactively reaching and engaging with members, sharing their core values, creating a unique connection with their patients, and building bonds of trust," WONCA writes.

As for care,delivering accessible, equitable, sustainable, high-quality care is Family Doctors' raison d'etre, WONCA explains. Being a family doctor is both a privilege and a responsibility, always looking after people and providing what is necessary for their welfare and protection, identifying their patients' needs to guarantee the fundamental right to health.

See globalfamilydoctor.com for more information.