ABU DHABI // The Arab world has less than a third of the general practitioners it requires, says a regional healthcare expert, and as a result the benefits of visiting a family doctor are reduced here.
Heightened trust and a knowledge of family history are just two of the benefits to family doctors, said Prof Faisal Abdul Latif Nasir, the chairman of the department of family and community medicine at Bahrain's Arabian Gulf University.
By international norms, there should be one family physician per 2,000 people, he said, but the reality in the Arab world is that there is roughly one doctor per 6,000 people.
"This indicates a severe shortage in this speciality among doctors in the Arab world," he said.
The Arab world needs about another 175,000 family physicians, he said, adding that half of the doctors practising in any country should be family physicians.
"In Britain, they are called general practitioners, and you have your own GP. Whenever you are not feeling well, you go to them," said Prof Nasir, who was speaking yesterday at the Abu Dhabi Medical Congress. "The most important thing about this service is that he provides continuous care for the whole family."
The prevalence of communicable and non-communicable diseases in the Middle East could also be tackled more effectively if there were more family physicians, he added.
Both patients and governments would benefit in the long run. "It is wiser and economical to establish more health centres with more facilities in them equipped with specialist family physicians who can take care of the whole population."
Dr Osman El Labban, the director of the family-medicine residency training programme at the Dubai Health Authority, said most patients were unaware that family physicians are in fact highly specialised.
It is a common belief that has led Ahmed Atteya, a 32-year-old Dubai resident, to put his trust in hospitals rather than doctors. He said the country's level of health care had not given him the confidence to trust one doctor alone.
"I don't think a family physician works on its own," he said. "There need to be other specialists involved."
Dr El Labban said family physicians should be the first care provider that a person visits.
"Hospital care is deep and narrow because it is very concentrated, whereas the family physician's care is wide and broad."