Family medicine 101: Introduction on family doctor

Why do I need a family doctor?

A family doctor is a community-based healthcare provider, which provides continual and comprehensive health care service. A family doctor ought to build a family-like relationship with his/her patient.

A family doctor possesses specific skills, including communication and coordination, that could enhance clinical outcomes. Especially for patients with chronic or mental illness, a family doctor provides ideal supports as s/he has experience in the provision of medical support to walk with patients with understanding and empathy.

The concept of a family doctor is more common in other foreign countries. Individual may have a family doctor starting from a young age. Thus, the family doctor would be familiar with the individual’s health record as well as his family medical background. It is an ideal case which the doctor could provide suitable pieces of advice with consideration of individual's past medical history.


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Is family doctor same as a Family Medicine (FM) specialist and General Practitioner (GP)?
Is family doctor same as a Family Medicine (FM) specialist and General Practitioner (GP)?

Is family doctor same as a Family Medicine (FM) specialist and General Practitioner (GP)?

A family doctor is the major primary care service provider who provides comprehensive, person-centred, continuing, preventive and coordinated care to you and your family members. The idea of “family doctor” is based on the academic and clinical training, also a subdivision of the medical industry. Your “family doctor” could be a Family Medicine specialist or a general practitioner. 

How is Family Medicine (FM) different from a general practitioner (GP)?
How is Family Medicine (FM) different from a general practitioner (GP)?

How is Family Medicine (FM) different from a general practitioner (GP)?

Family medicine is a medical specialty providing primary health care services.  FM doctors are also the first person to meet when a person is seeking medical or healthcare attention. Since both FM and GP are primary healthcare providers, it is very difficult to fully differentiate FM from GP.  However, there are still some subtle differences.

Academic and clinical training: 

General Practitioner would need to experience five years of academic training with a one-year internship (houseman) training at public hospitals. 

FM specialist needs to complete six years of above training and additional 6 years of specialist’s training. Include two years of rotations at different specialties like surgery, paediatrics, gynaecology, internal medicine, emergency care, orthopaedics, dermatology, psychiatry, ophthalmology, ear, nose and throat at different hospitals. Then another two years working at community-based clinics. After passing an intermediate exam, the doctor will go through another two years training in consultation skills, clinic management and  clinical audits, which is a unique arrangement compare with other specialties. 

Clinical audits:

A clinical audit requires the doctor’s ability to enhance patient’s general health level. Let’s take diabetes patients as an example. Besides individual consultation, the doctor is capable in finding out deficiency in patients care. With the help of clinic nurses and paramedics, changes could be implemented to improve patients outcomes. So, 3 to 6 months later,  patients’ diabetes control could be improved. 


Continual care and perpetual doctor-patient relationship are greatly emphasised in FM specialist training. FM doctor provides comprehensive and holistic one-stop solution of different medical problems.  FM doctors foster a greater understanding and managing of clinical problems within patients’ social context and domains, personal belief, family structure and medical history, workplace, or social groups are factors taken into consideration. FM doctor will also focus on possible mental health issues, preventive and anticipatory healthcare.  They are also good at maintaining proper medical records and liaising with a variety of specialties and allied healthcare providers.

Why shall I consult a FM doctor?
Why shall I consult a FM doctor?

Why shall I consult a FM doctor?

A good FM doctor provides more than episodic medical solutions to a patient, but also being people-orientated and could understand the patient as a person in his/her illness. FM doctors listen to the patient's sufferings, feelings, and worries, not just the symptoms of the illness or disease. In order to provide patients with dedicated and continual care, FM doctors are generally caring, attentive, and empathetic.

When do I need to consult a Family Medicine specialist?
When do I need to consult a Family Medicine specialist?

When do I need to consult a Family Medicine specialist?

Patients with any kind of diseases could benefit from a FM doctor. A good family doctor does not just provide medical solution and treat patients’ illnesses, but also accompanies patients during the recovery journey in a friendly yet professional manner. Family doctors also provide input for  varieties of clinical encounters.

Patient story
Patient story

Here’s an example of how a FM doctor could help:

A 35-year-old housewife comes into the clinic with minimal upper respiratory tract infection symptoms. She has a good health record and no chronic illness but her last consultation was two years ago. This is a simple case for a doctor: An individual with no pre-existing health conditions and minimal symptoms. Generally, doctors would handle the case with a diagnosis, prescription of medicine, and a sick leave note.

Nevertheless, FM doctor treats the consultation differently. Doctor will start by understanding more and asking questions like, “It doesn’t seem to be your habit to seek help for minor symptoms as you haven’t visited for the past two years. What makes you here today?” Then with the woman replying, “If it weren’t for my newborn child, I would not be bothered to come.” So now the family doctor knows that the patient is worried about spreading the illness to the newborn baby and is looking for a speedy recovery. This key information opens the door to a few more areas of concern than just treating the upper respiratory tract infection symptoms, including: 

  • Patient’s understanding of simple upper respiratory tract infection natural disease course, mode of transmission, treatment and prevention etc.
  • Patient’s understanding of the normal immunity development of the newborn.  A reminder of the infant’s vaccination schedule.
  • Proper personal and household hygiene measures to prevent transmission of upper respiratory tract infection.
  • Warning symptoms in a newborn that would need medical attention.
  • Common mental stress and related issues when a family is welcoming its first newborn.

Knowing that the patient is a housewife, FM doctors can also tailor their explanation and discuss in more detail about daily issues, as she may be more interested to learn about it in this presentation. This is a general example of how FM doctors encourage a more holistic care for almost any type of illness.

How to choose a family doctor?
How to choose a family doctor?

How to choose a family doctor?

  • Communication: A good family doctor would demonstrate outstanding communication, problem-solving and management skills, as well as a caring, attentive and empathetic attitude
  • Qualification: A family doctor must obtain relevant academic and professional qualifications, and participate in continuing education
  • Network: Ideally, a family doctor would possess a strong support network of allied health professionals, such as dietitians, physiotherapists and occupational therapists, etc.
  • Available service: Check whether disease prevention services such as smoking cessation, vaccinations or cervical screening tests are provided
  • Location: Consider the doctor whose clinic is close to your home or office, and if the opening hours are convenient for you

Should you have any doubt, please consult your doctors or nurses.

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