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How to Improve the Family Physician-Patient Relationship

How does COVID-19 give us the opportunity to improve the family physician-patient relationship?

Family physicians have a unique relationship with their patients. It is a relationship founded on sustained personal connection and on trust that builds over time. This relationship is the cornerstone of family medicine. But it has been put to the test in the new era of COVID-19.

I have been a family physician for over 12 years, caring for my patients and doing my best to improve their lives. As their primary care physician (PCP), I have gained intimate knowledge of their lives. I have shared with them major life-cycle events and come to know each member of their nuclear family. I’m familiar with their socioeconomic background, personality traits, habits, and lifestyle choices. When all of this comes together, the strong and meaningful relationship can empower the patient, enhance adherence to medical treatments, achieve better control of chronic conditions, and help motivate a healthier lifestyle.

An essential element of any health care system is primary medical care. We are the first point of contact for persons with undiagnosed signs, symptoms, or health concerns. Our approach to care is comprehensive and not organ or problem-specific. We are ultimately responsible for coordinating other health services as they relate to the patient’s care. Recognizing the individuality and complexity of each patient, and based on the unique relationship we share, I am able to tailor the treatment path for each and every case. This medical approach is known as personalized patient care.

The COVID-19 pandemic has challenged this special relationship. Almost overnight, patients became hesitant to seek medical care, delaying non-urgent follow-up visits and preventive care. Many have relocated and have changed to a different PCP. Most significantly, telemedicine has taken a central role in the family physician-patient relationship, raising new challenges in patient care.

Telemedicine is here to stay. But it should not compromise personal and individualized patient care or patient trust, which are so essential to keeping patients on track with their well-being, adherence, and self-care. How can we bridge this necessity with telemedicine? How can we still ensure the best personal care for our patients and even improve it?

This is where Octopus.Health can help. It’s a platform that provides automated, cloud-based patient management and engagement tools while ensuring that the lines of communication between patient and family physician are kept open, transparent, and truly personalized.

Patients are given a direct communication channel with their physicians. For example, Octopus.Health’s data analysis generates and provides reports on wellness, anxiety, health-related habits such as smoking, weight gain, sleep disturbances, and physical activity. The physician is notified of any change in the patient’s health status and if a patient is noncompliant or non-adhering to meds, together with an analysis of the most likely causes for each case (such as adverse side effects, costs, lack of time, or whatever other reason).

The platform delivers patient reminders that are formulated according to the patient’s individual lifestyle to trigger compliance and preventive care, like keeping appointments and going for lab or imaging tests. The patient remains assured that their primary care physician is still the main coordinator of their medical care path, promoting continuation of care while enhancing patient satisfaction.

We are at the brink of a new age that could bury or build the patient-doctor connection and the trust between patients and family doctors. It is in our hands to take up advances in telemedicine that help us make both relationships and outcomes even better.

Written by Yael Shuv Ami, MD, Family Physician at Clalit Health Services

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