Background: The field of family medicine has been enriched by a family-oriented approach and the inclusion of family systems concepts. Keeping the family as a central focus of care has been a fundamental commitment of family medicine. This research examines how exemplary physicians ("exemplars") integrate a family-oriented approach into the routine care of individual patients.
Methods: Four family physician exemplars were observed. A total of 16 days was spent observing the physicians; 137 physician-patient encounters were audiotaped, transcribed, and analyzed. Grounded theory was used for analysis, and a model of a family-oriented approach was developed.
Results: Visits were classified by the reason for visit and the intensity of family-oriented talk and actions. There was modest variation among the physicians in terms of intensity and time spent with patients. Overall, 19% of patient encounters had a high intensity of family-orientedness; 34% were of low intensity. The average time spent with patients was 13 minutes, with visits ranging from 3 to 39 minutes in length.
Conclusions: Our study demonstrated that physicians integrate family systems concepts into routine individual patient care. The findings identify characteristics of the family-oriented approach and those circumstances that promote and hinder it. Family physicians can adapt specific components of the family-oriented approach into their routine individual patient care.