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November 6, 2017

Strong bond with family doctor helps patients feel comfortable asking questions about their care: Dr. Cathy MacLean

November 6 to 11 is Family Doctor Week in Canada. It’s a time to recognize the contributions family doctors make in our health care system and their relationships with patients and the communities they serve. 

Open communication is essential to healthy physician-patient relationships. As part of its More Is Not Always Better campaign, Choosing Wisely has identified four questions patients can ask their doctor to understand whether a particular test or treatment is necessary or not:

  1. Do I really need this test, treatment, or procedure?
  2. What are the downsides?
  3. Are there simpler, safer options?
  4. What happens if I do nothing?

Dr. Cathy MacLean is a family doctor who practises in Saskatoon. A member of the organizing committee for Choosing Wisely Saskatchewan, Dr. MacLean believes the bond that patients form over time with their family doctor makes it easier for patients to speak up when they have questions about their care.

Q: Why is it important for people to have a family doctor?  

A: Having a family doctor gives you access to care and an opportunity to build a trusting relationship in which you feel comfortable to ask questions. When this relationship provides continuity over time, you and your doctor know what is going on with your health and can coordinate your care more effectively.  This continuity helps reduce unnecessary duplication in the system, gives you an advocate who knows your health care needs and who looks after you no matter what the nature of the problem.

Q: How can the Four Questions be helpful to doctors? 

A: The four questions give us each a moment to reflect on the next decisions and what options are best.  They help to drive a very crucial conversation that engages patients in their health care decisions in a real and practical way. It helps the physician consider all options and the potential pros and cons.

Q: How can the Four Questions benefit patients? 

A: This shared decision making ensures we are all on the same page and have carefully thought through what options are best and why.

Q: Why is it important to “choose wisely” when it comes to medical tests, treatments and procedures?

A: Mostly this is about applying best practice and having the conversation about what is really needed.  It takes us out of automatic mode or the way we have always done things and puts us both, MD and patient, in the mindset of figuring out what is really best in this situation today, where is the evidence, what are our best options? Our decisions can be better informed and ultimately if we are more judicious with our scare resources in healthcare we can use the resources we have more effectively which is “more wisely” for the system as a whole!