Patients as partners
Forty years ago, St. Joseph’s opened the first full-service family medical centre in Canada.
"If we could all just learn to listen, everything else would fall into place. Listening is the key to being patient-centred.”
They are words that form the foundation of family medicine from a man regarded as the father of family medicine in Canada – Dr. Ian McWhinney. And it was here in London, Ontario that his work led the discipline to become recognized as a specialty in its own right – one based on knowledge gained by the physicians through their long-term relationship with patients and families rather than treatment of disease alone.
St. Joseph’s Health Care London would become an important player in this evolution. In 1968, the first full-service, family medical centre opened in Canada in the basement of St. Joseph’s Hospital. Forty years later, the centre, now on Platt’s Lane, has a staff of about 40 care providers serving thousands of people, training about 30 residents each year, and playing a key role in research.
“The original centre was ground-breaking,” explains Dr. Tom Freeman, chief of Family Medicine at St. Joseph’s and London Health Sciences Centre, and chair of the Department of Family Medicine at The University of Western Ontario. “Many of the principles of family medicine were established there.”
The centre was pivotal in recognizing that family medicine should be a community-based discipline focused on the needs of the patient, and interdisciplinary in nature, he explains.
“It was the bedrock on which all that developed and why 40 years is worth celebrating. What we’re most proud of is the high quality care provided to the community of London, the comprehensiveness of that care, and the sense that it’s an integral part of the community.”
Four decades after Dr. McWhinney first defined the principles of family medicine, the Ontario government is funding interdisciplinary practice and the formation of family health teams across the province. The teams include physicians and other providers such as nurse practitioners, nurses, social workers and dieticians, all working together to see more patients and to keep them healthy. It’s hoped these teams will ease the tremendous strain on family physicians burdened by too many patients with burgeoning needs.
What won’t change, says Dr. Freeman, is that family medicine begins with the patient. “In any clinical encounter, there are two experts in the room, the patient and the care provider. Together, they find common ground to solve the problem.”