Objectives: The American health care system is complicated and can be difficult to navigate. The physician who observes the care of a family member has a uniquely informed perspective on this system. We hoped to gain insight into some of the shortcomings of the health care system from the personal experiences of physician family members.
Study design: Using a key informant technique, we invited by E-mail any of the chairpersons of US academic departments of family medicine to describe their recent personal experiences with the health care system when their parent was seriously ill. In-depth semi-structured telephone interviews were conducted with each of the study participants. The interviews were transcribed, coded, and labeled for themes.
Population: Eight family physicians responded to the E-mail, and each was interviewed. These physicians had been in practice for an average of 19 years, were nationally distributed, and included both men and women. Each discussed their father's experience.
Results: All participants spoke of the importance of an advocate for their fathers who would coordinate medical care. These physicians witnessed various obstacles in their fathers's care, such as poor communication and fragmented care. As a result, many of them felt compelled to intervene in their fathers' care. The physicians expressed concern about the care their fathers received, believing that the system does not operate the way it should.
Conclusions: Even patients with a knowledgeable physician family member face challenges in receiving optimal medical care. Patients might receive better care if health care systems reinforced the role of an accountable attending physician, encouraged continuity of care, and emphasized the value of knowing the patient as a person.