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By Thomas C. Rosenthal

I have practiced medicine in Western New York for 35 years. Early in my career, I specialized in treating acute problems. Effective prevention for many common problems is now available and I now spend most of my time managing patients’ chronic problems.

The surge of those living with multiple chronic diseases and the development of effective treatments for those diseases has fundamentally changed the role of the primary doctor. Since the days of Marcus Welby, M.D., we have been quarterbacks of care for our patients. But back then, we had limited avenues of resources to provide care. Those days are gone. We now lead a full and comprehensive roster of specialists and support functions to ensure we field the best possible care at all times.

Skilled quarterbacks exercise good judgment in executing a game plan. Primary care doctors assemble a comprehensive team of specialists and other resources. As health care has become more complex, the need for coordination has become even greater.

The primary care doctor – the quarterback – is the key. Patients should expect their primary care physicians to coordinate all patient care, including education, accessing specialists, keen attention to detail and tailoring personalized approaches, all with one goal in mind: delivering the right care at the right time and in the right place.

The primary care doctor contributes to patient health in a variety of ways:

• We help patients understand their personal challenges, and their roles in treatment and cure. Patients must make sense of their situation and be willing participants in achieving health. The strength of a collaborative relationship between physician and patient can be as powerful as medication.

• We direct, coach and engage patients in activities to manage their conditions. These activities might include taking medications, exercising, quitting smoking, dieting or management of habits and addiction. This process is accomplished over time; it can be a slow journey. Medical issues can be complex and it’s sometimes a matter of two steps forward, one step back.

• We provide patients with feedback on their successes, which we measure by numbers, attitude, energy and sense of wellness. This feedback helps patients fully comprehend their progress and make more-educated decisions on their health care down the road.

A 2012 study found that communities with an adequate supply of family physicians experienced 1.44 fewer deaths per 10,000 people. Your primary care doctor can and should help you reduce the emotional and physiological burden of treating chronic disease or diseases through his or her unique skills, proven expertise, attention to detail and a game plan that is carefully crafted for you.

Thomas C. Rosenthal, M.D., is chief medical executive of Optimum Physician Alliance.