What is Family Practice and Family Medicine?

Introduction

A family medicine doctor provides care across for a number of medical concerns and often to a wide variety of age groups.1 Dr. Michael Ligotti is an example of a family medicine doctors who cares for those of all ages, from infants to the elderly.

This article will examine some of the roles a primary care physician (PCP) or family medicine doctor may play in a person’s healthcare. You can read examples of the types of illnesses and injuries Dr. Ligotti treats as well as key moments in a child’s development where they should see their family medicine doctor. If you have further questions, please feel free to call our office for more information on medical services Dr. Ligotti provides and how he cares for patients across a variety of ages.

What Does a Family Medicine Doctor Do?

A family medicine doctor plays many roles in a family’s overall health and well-being. They can assess, treat, and care for a person to maintain their overall health and address any health concerns that may arise. Examples of the roles a family practice physician can take on include the following:

Preventive Care

Ideally, a family medicine physician works with you to prevent illness whenever possible. Examples include offering annual physicals to identify potential health concerns or offering vaccines to prevent health concerns such as the flu. A family medicine physician can also offer guidance on living a healthy lifestyle, such as following a diet and exercise plan that can help a person feel better. A doctor can help a person continually evaluate their state of health and identify areas where they can potentially improve.

Illness and Injury Treatment

Family medicine physicians also treat illnesses. This can include colds, coughs, stomach bugs, and minor injuries, such as a sprained ankle. They also are usually the first stop to referrals for medical conditions that may require a specialist. Examples can include neurologists, orthopedic physicians, or psychiatrists. A family medicine doctor can listen to a person’s health concerns and identify if a person should see a specialist. They can usually refer a person to that specialist and provide medical records. Because the primary care physician has an established medical relationship with the person, they can continue to coordinate the patient’s care should they require further treatments and interventions.

A family medicine doctor can take on many roles in their patient’s health and care. They are a vital part of keeping a person well. Ideally, a person can establish a patient-doctor relationship with a family medicine doctor before they experience significant or chronic illness since a doctor is familiar with their medical history and care needs.

When Should a Person See a Family Medicine Doctor?

A family medicine doctor can treat mild to moderate medical conditions in their office during regular business hours. Examples of conditions treated include:

  • Cough
  • Earaches
  • Fevers
  • Minor cuts and sprains
  • Stomach illness/cramping
  • Wheezing (mild)

If a person isn’t sure if they should see their family medicine doctor or seek emergency care, the best step to take is to call their primary care physician. The doctor or someone in the doctor’s office can make a recommendation as to where to seek care.

When to Seek Emergency Care

There are some instances for adults and children when it is best to seek immediate emergency care. These include:

  • Difficulty breathing or extreme shortness of breath
  • Head trauma
  • Mental status changes, such as slurring words, appearing unusually sleepy, or being confused for no known reason
  • Large, deep cuts or laceration that doesn't stop bleeding with consistent pressure
  • Potential ingestion of a poisonous substance or excessive medications

In these instances, it is almost always best to seek emergency care.

Sometimes, a person may find they need urgent care service. These are services that are usually provided in an after-hours environment when a family medicine doctor’s office may not be open. Examples may include a person that has a cut, sprain, or strain that needs to be addressed.

What is Included in Pediatric Medicine?

Family medicine doctors who provide pediatric services care for infants, children, and adolescents.2 Family medicine doctors who provide pediatric medicine address the needs of children as well as help to evaluate their growth and development. Not all primary care physicians see children, but as a family medicine provider, Dr. Ligotti does. This means that Dr. Ligotti doesn’t restrict his practice to an adult-age population, but instead cares for all ages.

Examples of services that Dr. Ligotti provides with regard to pediatric medicine include:

Annual Check-Ups

Sick Child Visits

Annual Vaccines and Immunizations

Children are not small adults.3 They have unique needs with regard to medication dosages and in ensuring a child meets their milestones for growth and development. Doctors who specialize in family medicine and pediatric medicine can provide care for the whole family. Because they provide care across a spectrum of ages, a person can not “age out” from seeing their doctor. Once they become an adult, they can continue to see their same primary care physician and start to take their family to the same practitioner.

What are the Differences Between Pediatric and Adult Medicine?

Treating Age Specific Illnesses

Pediatric and adult medicine often have different focuses that are age-specific. For example, young children are developing their immune system and may be more prone to illnesses that don’t commonly affect adults. Examples can include respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and hand, foot, and mouth disease. While these may impact adults, the severity is not usually as significant as it is for children.

Teaching Preventative Medicine

Also, pediatric medicine focuses on preventive care and teaching children and their parents how to help a child live a healthy lifestyle from an early age. A family medicine doctor can evaluate a child based on their age to determine if they are developing from a musculoskeletal and behavioral health perspective. Examples could include if a child is sitting up, crawling, or walking by certain age milestones.

Adult medicine also requires a preventive focus, but often to prevent diseases most commonly related to adulthood. Examples could include high blood pressure, type II diabetes, or heart disease.

Health at Any Age

While there are some key differences between the two medicine types, a family medicine provider can care for a person at these stages in their lifetime. They can provide patient-centered care for a person’s entire family, from birth to older age.

Important Child Growth Milestones

In addition to treating an acutely ill child, one of the most important roles a family medicine professional takes on is evaluating and discussing with a parent to confirm that a child is meeting their development milestones. These milestones are signs that a child is developing mentally and physically as expected. While some children may reach some milestones quickly and other slowly, there are some key factors that a doctor well-versed in pediatric medicine will look for.

Four Major Milestones

According to the Children’s Hospital of Pennsylvania, there are four major milestone categories a pediatrician will look for.4 These include the following:

Adaptive: A child can dress, eat, and wash their hands

Cognition: A child can problem solve, understand, reason, and show signs of thinking and reaction

Motor: A child can jump, hop, throw, catch, draw, stack, and more

Social Interaction: A child can interact with others and play in groups

During regular checkups, a family medicine physician will ask a parent and personally evaluate that a person is reaching various milestones. Examples of some of these by age include:

Milestones By Age

2 months old

The child can usually hold their head up for some time periods and seems to respond to changes in vocal tone. They may also smile at faces smiling at them.

4 months old

The child is usually making sounds, such as babbling and cooing. A person may notice the baby has cries that vary depending upon what they want, such as for food or a fresh diaper.

6 months old

The child may start to mimic sounds, saying words like ma, da, or oh. They seem to recognize sounds that others make as well. They are typically able to grasp toys and frequently reach for them as well.

9 months old

The child is usually crawling and may pull up on furniture and other objects to stand. They also may like to play games such as peek-a-boo.

12 months old

The child is usually able to stand on their own and may take several steps. They may also be using some simple words, such as “Mom” or “Dad.”

18 months old

The toddler usually uses about eight or more words and can point to pictures in a book. They can usually use a spoon and cup and can climb up on a chair by themselves.

2 years old

The child can walk both forward and backward. They can speak in two- to three-word sentences and can sing and dance.

3 years old

The child can usually play with other children, can count to three, can use the toilet by themselves, and can copy a circle and lines on a paper.

4 years old

The child can speak in full sentences and draw a person. They can usually get dressed by themselves and recognize five or more colors.

5 years old

The child can usually recognize letters, count 10 objects or more, and can catch a ball.

Again, children can develop at different rates. If they have medical conditions that may affect their ability to learn or physically develop at the same rates, their milestones may be different as well. A family medicine physician can discuss these with parents as well as encourage them on how to help their child meet their next milestones.

What to Expect During an Appointment

What to expect during an appointment may vary based on what a person is being seen for (well visit or sick visit). However, some of the basic steps include:

Registration Process

Provide important details like an insurance card and mailing address. A person may be asked to fill out a health history questionnaire or update a pre-existing one to determine if anything about a person’s health status has changed.

Vital Signs Collection or Bloodwork (if applicable)

A medical assistant or other medical professional will usually collect information, such as a person’s vital signs, height, and weight. In some instances, they may also draw blood for testing, such as cholesterol or blood glucose. They may also collect information as to a person’s signs and symptoms before they see the doctor.

Doctor's Visit

A family medicine doctor will assess, evaluate, and recommend further testing, treatment, or specialists to help a person enhance their health. They will discuss proposed treatments, side effects, and answer questions a patient may have.

Discharge Information

If a person receives new prescriptions or receives other medical advice, they will receive paperwork and other relevant information to further educate them on their treatment plan. A medical professional will instruct them as to when to call back with additional questions or symptom changes.

Benefits of Including a Family Medicine Doctor Throughout Child Development

According to an article published in the World Journal of Clinical Pediatrics, a child visits a primary healthcare provider an average of 31 times from birth to age 21 for wellness visits alone.5 Having a consistent healthcare provider across these visits and more can offer many benefits. 

One of the major benefits is helping to reduce anxiety, stress, and even fear related to seeing the doctor. When a child or young person has seen the same family medicine provider several times in a row, they are more familiar with that provider and less likely to feel scared.

Also, a doctor who sees a patient throughout their development is familiar with that patient’s medical history as well as what treatments have been effective in the past or which ones have not. A parent does not have to start from scratch telling their life story or medical history. Instead, their doctor is familiar with the patient and better able to treat them through every stage of their lives.

Benefits of Having a Family Medicine Doctor as a Primary Care Physician

According to a poll conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation, an estimated 26 percent out of 1,200 individuals do not have a primary care physician.6 The most significant age group that did not have a primary care physician were those ages 18 to 29 years old. An estimated 45 percent reported they did not have a primary care provider compared to 12 percent of those ages 65 and older, according to The Washington Post.  Establishing a relationship with a family medicine doctor early can increase the chances of a young adult having access to a primary care physician.

Urgent Care isn't Primary Care

While urgent care clinics may offer primary care services, even their governing bodies do not suggest the clinics should replace primary care. According to a statement from the American Academy of Urgent Care Medicine, urgent care does not replace your family medicine physician.

Relationships with your Doctors Matter

One of the reasons it is so important to have a family medicine doctor as your primary care physician is that a person has an established relationship with a healthcare provider who is aware of their health history and medications taken. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that an estimated 50 percent of patients who sought care at an urgent care clinic for an upper respiratory illness or cold left with a prescription for antibiotics while 17 percent left a primary care physician’s office without one. Researchers from this study found many patients were receiving unnecessary treatments due to the fact the urgent care clinic didn’t have the benefits of knowing about a patient’s health history like a family medicine doctor would.

You Need a Doctor Who Knows You

In a quote from The Washington Post, Michael Munger, the President of the American Academy of Family Physicians, said, “we all need care that is coordinated and longitudinal. Regardless of how healthy you are, you need someone who knows you.”7 Through seeing a family medicine doctor (ideally before an illness occurs), a person can have a medical provider who is familiar with their medical history, medications taken, and overall state of health.

Dr. Ligotti can be Your Family Medicine Physician

If a person doesn’t currently have a family medicine physician for themselves or their family, they can call our family medicine office to make a new patient appointment. At this appointment, they can meet Dr. Ligotti and the office staff. They can ask questions about how to make appointments and who to call for after-hours needs. And if they do find themselves feeling ill, they can call for a sick visit appointment at a later time.

For more information on family medicine or to make an appointment with Dr. Ligotti, please call (561) 265-1990. A caring member of our staff will be happy to answer your questions.

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