Brought to you by Saint Alphonsus Primary Care, expert(s) at Family Medicine.

Family doctors focus on relationships with patients

There is someone that every member of a family, youngest to oldest has in common - a family care practitioner.

This broad specialty works at maintaining the health of the whole family, and over the years can seem almost like a member of that family.

Family physicians take care of the physical, mental and emotional health of their patients, using their knowledge of your family's health history to keep you as healthy as possible through all the stages of your life. Family physicians are trained in all areas of medicine, and they diagnose and treat the full range of problems people bring to their doctors.

They often serve as the patient's entry point into the health care system, and as the first medical professional most people contact when ill or injured. When a referral is needed, the family physician can recommend other specialists or caregivers to the patient, while serving as a sort of coordinator of the patientŐs overall health care, preventing information and care from getting fragmented.

The family physician serves as the patientŐs advocate in all areas of health care, be it working with other medical professionals, employers or insurance companies.

Training

Family medicine has a deep-rooted history across civilization. The first physicians were general doctors, providing all of the medical care available to the public. They diagnosed and treated illnesses, performed surgery and delivered babies.

Today's family physicians know the most current treatments and technologies, and are required to train for three years in real practice settings, including treating patients in the office, hospital and at home. Family doctors re-certify more than any other medical specialty, while continuing their own professional education. This allows them to apply the latest medical breakthroughs to the everyday care of their patients. Family physicians are specially trained in preventive medicine, following the belief that preventing a health problem is better than having to treat one.

Family practice is a three-tiered specialty, combining knowledge, skill and process. Although knowledge and skill may be shared with other specialties, the family medicine process is unique, since it is centered on the patient-physician relationship. It is the extent to which this relationship is valued, developed, nurtured and maintained that sets family medicine apart from other specialties.

How to find a family doctor

If you are looking for a family physician, try talking to friends and family to get recommendations. Try calling the offices of the recommend doctors to get more information about the issues that concern you the most. Some things that you should ask include:
- Do they accept your insurance?
- What are the office hours?
- What hospital does the doctor use?
- How many doctors are in the practice?

Once you find a doctor who meets your needs, schedule an appointment so you can meet and talk to the doctor. During the appointment, make sure youŐre comfortable with the doctor and that he or she answers all your questions in a way you can understand.

Vaccinations

One of the most important things parents can do for themselves and their families is to follow a set vaccination schedule to help prevent disease. Vaccinations (vaccines) protect you and your child against serious diseases by stimulating the immune system to create antibodies against certain bacteria or viruses. Most vaccinations are given as injections.

What diseases do vaccines protect against?

Vaccines protect against measles, mumps, rubella, influenza, hepatitis B, hepatitis A, polio, diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis (whooping cough), Hib disease, chickenpox, rotavirus and pneumococcal disease. Vaccines can't protect children from minor illnesses like colds, but they can keep children safe from many serious diseases.

Isn't all this talk about diseases just a way to scare parents so they'll bring their babies in for shots?

No. These diseases can injure and kill children in the U.S. Pertussis, for example, is currently a dangerous disease for infants. During 1997-2000, nearly 30,000 pertussis cases were reported; 62 resulted in death. In 2003 alone, 11,647 cases and 18 deaths from pertussis were reported. Influenza also takes a toll on children. During the 2003-04 influenza season, 40 states reported 152 influenza-related deaths among children younger than 18 years of age.

Isn't there some way besides vaccination to protect my baby against these diseases?

No. Breastfeeding offers temporary immunity against some minor infections like colds, but it is not an effective means of protecting a child from the specific diseases preventable by vaccines. Likewise, vitamins don't protect against the specific bacteria and viruses that cause these serious diseases.
Of course, infection usually results in immunity, and some parents think that getting the "natural" disease is preferable to "artificial" vaccination. Some even arrange chickenpox "parties" to ensure their child is infected. However, the price paid for natural disease can include paralysis, retardation, liver cancer, deafness, blindness or even death. Vaccination is definitely a better choice!

Are vaccinations safe?

Vaccines are safe, and researchers continually work to make sure they become even safer. Every vaccine undergoes many tests before being licensed, and its safety continues to be monitored as long as the vaccine is in use.
Most side effects from vaccination are minor, such as soreness where the injection was given or a low-grade fever. These side effects do not last long and are treatable. Serious reactions are very rare. The tiny risk of a serious vaccine reaction has to be weighed against the very real risk of getting a dangerous vaccine-preventable disease. If you have concerns or questions, talk to your child's healthcare provider.

What if my baby has a cold or is taking antibiotics?

Your child can still be vaccinated if he or she has a mild illness, a low-grade fever or is taking antibiotics. Ask your child's health care provider if you have questions.

How many times does my baby need vaccinations?

At least four visits are needed before age 2, but the visits can be timed to coincide with well-child check-ups. Your baby should get the first vaccine (hepatitis B) shortly after birth, while still in the hospital. Multiple visits during the first two years are necessary, because there are 14 diseases your baby can be protected against, and most require several doses of vaccine for optimal protection.

How do I know when to take my baby in for shots?

Your health care provider should give you a reminder when the next doses are due. If you are not sure, call your clinic or health care provider to find out when you should bring your child back. Doses cannot be given too close together or immunity doesn't have time to build up. On the other hand, you don't want to delay your child's shots and get behind schedule. It takes time to catch up and during this time, your child remains unprotected against these diseases.

What if I miss a shot?

If your baby misses some doses, it's not necessary to start over. Your provider will continue from where he or she left off. Your health care provider should give you a personal record card for your child's vaccinations. If you don't receive one, ask! Bring the card to all medical appointments. Whenever your child receives a vaccine, make sure the card gets updated. Your child will benefit by retaining an accurate vaccination record throughout his or her life.

What if my child isn't a baby anymore? Is it too late?

No. Although it's best to have your child begin vaccination as an infant, it's never too late to start. If your child has not received any, or all, of his or her shots, now is the time to start.

Information provided by The American Academy of Family Physicians and the Immunization Action Coalition