Imagine a 60-year old Egyptian already suffering from high blood pressure and starting to experience recurring headaches.
The typical scenario in Egypt would be the start of hectic visits to internists, otolaryngologists’, ophthalmologists, and perhaps even psychiatrists, with the end result probably dissatisfaction and a waste of time and money.
Only by the implementation of the role of family doctor can this long drawn-out quest for a specific diagnosis be shortened.
"Family medicine is a branch that deals with the overall medical care of all members of the family no matter what their gender, age or whatever ailment they are suffering," says Dr Ahmed Shoheyeb, an American-board consultant in Family Medicine.
“The competence and abilities of this branch of medicine are what we need to help people save time, money and effort. The patient can be treated taking into consideration a comprehensive view of their state of health and medical history,” Shoheyeb explains.
“Generally we regard the specialist in this field as a close friend and confidant to whom every member of the family can confide and trust, and that’s why he can be very successful and effective in treating addictions and psychological-related problems like bed-wetting," he continued.
Shoheyeb went on to clarify that the family doctor is qualified to diagnose and treat 90 per cent of patients, leaving only the remaining 10 per cent in need of a specialist. He can provide preventive care that includes immunization and regular screening tests (mammograms, pap smears, PSA to detect prostate cancer) routine checkups, health-risk assessments, management of chronic diseases and introduce the patient to unorthodox medicine, like homeopathy.
He is also trained to give advice on health and lifestyle if needed, and can offer a psychological service which helps the patient, without exposing him to the social stigma that is still unfortunately associated with this issue.
The first family medicine sector was initiated in the US in 1966 in compliance to the people's wish that saw that medical branches had become too diversified following the Second World War.
People complained that the heath service was fragmented and after twenty years of public demand, family medicine was established. In the US, one in every four visits to the office is made to a family physician, which is around 208 million a year.
In Egypt, the specialty was first implemented in Suez Canal University in 1982, followed by Ain Shams, then Cairo University, which have been giving masters and PHD degrees since 2003, and where an annual conference is held every March to discuss the latest in the field of family medicine.
"Four to five hundred Egyptian doctors graduate each year after spending years specialising in family medicine," says Dr Saeed Salah Abduljalil, a lecturer of Family Medicine at Cairo University.
"These doctors are very highly-qualified and understand that the family doctor needs to empathise with his patient. But most of them end up working abroad in other Arab countries, where they are very much in demand,” he asserts.
Family medicine was encouraged to some extent in the days of Dr Ismail Sallam, but unfortunately the enthusiasm apparently faltered afterwards, and the time has come to develop this area.
The fact is that it actually presents a good solution to a lot of people seeking a closer, more comprehensive link with their doctor, and a relief from the rather confusing procedure of pin-pointing the right diagnosis.