Every so often, American Family Physician reviews a public health topic, such as outdoor air pollutants, disaster preparedness and response, or reducing the effects of climate change. And occasionally we receive feedback from readers who suggest that these topics are not appropriate for a family medicine journal, since family physicians are practicing clinicians who provide direct care to individual patients, not public health professionals responsible for large populations. However, this view of the limited role of family physicians is by no means unanimous.
In response to concerns about the shrinking scope of family medicine, Dr. Joseph Scherger wrote on the Society of Teachers of Family Medicine blog that "family medicine today is more complex and expansive in some ways than ever before." Family physicians must learn advanced motivational counseling and information management skills to practice excellent preventive and chronic care. Also, the patient-centered medical home requires family physicians to take population-based approaches to managing chronic illnesses.
In March, the Institute of Medicine published a report on opportunities for integrating primary care and public health. Notably, the report did not advocate for large numbers of family physicians to obtain formal public health degrees. Just as an editorial in the Annals of Internal Medicine argued that the subspecialty of geriatric medicine would be best served by incorporating its unique resources and skills into primary care training, a group of family medicine leaders convened by the American Board of Family Medicine recently declared:
The modern primary care physician, who values “community participation, political involvement, and collective advocacy," can, in effect, be a true public health professional, forming partnerships with community-based organizations that facilitate healthy change. This paradigm shift includes the transition from treating individuals in isolation to treating people in the context of their lives in their communities, indeed, culminating in community-centered care.
In a publication in the Annals of Family Medicine, this group re-examined and updated the 1967 Folsom Report, which provided a blueprint for connecting the personal physician with community resources in "Communities of Solution." What do you think of this ambitious vision of the family physician as a public health professional? Is this a desirable goal, and if so, what would it take to achieve it?
The above post first appeared in the AFP Community Blog.