01.05.2012 At first hand

Editorial Catherine Gasser. The approximately 7,700 family physicians (GPs) practising in Switzerland play a key role in the provision of primary healthcare for the citizens of our country. One of the major challenges of their work is that of correctly identifying the risk of serious illness occurring on the evidence of non-specific symptoms and of instituting appropriate measures and investigations.

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In addition, the growing proportion of older patients suffering from more than one condition means that family physicians are increasingly confronted with complex situations that cannot be resolved solely by means of medical interventions. This applies particularly to patients with incurable diseases requiring palliative treatment. In this phase of their lives, people need a trusted practitioner with strong medical and social skills, who is part of a wide network of health professionals and able to provide patients with optimum advice and support and obtain or coordinate further services for them.

The role of prevention in the family phys­ician’s broad range of tasks is growing in importance. Preventive services are generally geared to a long-term perspective. Their effects tend not to be immediately measurable or may even not be measurable at all. Thanks to the continuity of their relationship with patients, family doctors are well placed to estimate which preventive measures make good sense and what changes can be brought about in individual behaviour. The spectrum of possible preventive investigations and interventions is constantly expanding. Family doctors increasingly have to deal with worried patients who have an imprecise awareness of possible risks and therefore want all sorts of tests to be carried out. Here, too, the question
whether preventive action will be beneficial or harmful depends on its correct dosage.
This is why I call for a highly professional family medicine. Given the vast range of tasks that family doctors have to perform, only this can ensure decisions being taken on appropriate interventions that benefit patients and the community alike.

Catherine Gasser, Head of Healthcare Professions Division, Federal Office of Public Health

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