GPs told to take time to explain benefits of healthy lifestyle to patients

'Family physicians must listen carefully,' health professionals are told on the second day of the International Family Medicine Conference, in Dubai.

Dr Wafaa Mehelba, the president of the Egyptian medical association for the study of obesity, was one of the key speakers at the International Family Medicine Conference in Dubai yesterday. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National
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DUBAI // Time is of the essence if family doctors are to gain their patients' trust and tackle chronic ailments.

They should guide patients towards a healthy lifestyle and fight common issues such as heart disease, obesity, diabetes and back problems, all at the primary-care level.

Medical professionals attending the penultimate day of the International Family Medicine Conference heard that spending adequate time with a patient, and their family, will help

“Family physicians must listen carefully and do a thorough examination and they can manage most patients,” said Dr Abdul Karim Msaddi, head of the neurosurgical and spinal department at Dubai’s Neuro Spinal Hospital.

“For back pain patients, more than 85 per cent can be managed at the family-medicine level.”

According to a recent medical congress, also held in the emirate, diabetes, heart disease, obesity, hypertension and chronic respiratory conditions top the list of non-communicable diseases in the UAE.

Cardiovascular disease is the world’s leading cause of death and accounts for one in four deaths in the UAE, with smoking, obesity and lack of exercise the main proponents in UAE patients.

Doctors blamed such diseases on a sedentary lifestyle.

“Disc herniation is the main problem among the young population of 30 to 50 years who come to us,” Dr Msaddi said.

“Chronic back pain is because of a lazy lifestyle, sitting for long hours in the office and many hours of driving.”

According to Prof Faisal Al Nasir, chairman of the department of family and community medicine at Arabian Gulf University, Bahrain, family doctors are key to helping patients become proactive about their health.

“Obese patients are prone to problems like osteoarthritis, hypertension, diabetes and heart complications,” he said.

“As a family physician I will know the tendency that a child will have, because I know his family, and I must change food habits because obesity in childhood will remain in adulthood. Also, the whole family has to change otherwise one person will not be compliant.

“In the GCC, it’s a pattern of lack of education about food since our diet is rich in cholesterol, oils and carbohydrates. We have seen obesity can reach up to 40 per cent of the population in some GCC countries.”

Professor Salman Rawaf, Director of the World Health Organisation Collaborating Centre for Public Health Education and Training, said chronic diseases also impacted a country’s budget due to the loss of economic output.

“Eat less and move more”, should be the mantra doctors pass on to patients, Prof Rawaf, also an expert in public health at London’s Imperial College, said.

Strengthening public health systems, integrated and high quality primary care and effective hospital care is an important part of the solution, he added.

“I strongly believe that without primary health care led by family physicians, there is no health care system.

“Family physicians should be fully trained and governments should take responsibility to build strong and effective public health structures.”