New Top Family Doc Opportunity for Change

About 23 years ago I was in a canoe on a Muskoka lake with a young family doctor discussing some of the alternative treatments I was undergoing for my Crohn’s disease. He listened attentively and although not convinced that what I was doing was “evidence-based”, he was  supportive and encouraging. Our families shared a wonderful vacation together and we’ve been friends ever since.

On November 4, The College of Family Physicians of Canada (CFPC) installed my fellow canoer as their new president who comes with a particularly important mission and an opportunity that patients need to be aware of. Here’s some of his official bio:

Dr. Sandy Buchman practiced family medicine for 22 years. He is currently Education Lead and a Family Physician Practicing in Palliative Care at the Temmy Latner Centre for Palliative Care in Toronto and also serves as the Primary Care Lead for the Toronto Regional Cancer Program at Cancer Care Ontario. Dr. Buchman teaches family medicine at the University of Toronto and McMaster University, and supervises residents at the Mount Sinai Hospital Academic Family Health Team.

What his official bio doesn’t include is all the humanitarian work he’s done in remote places in Africa, South America, and the streets of downtown Toronto.

In his installation address he essentially declared that the age of “social accountability” for family medicine is at hand. So when he speaks about the social contract between medicine and society, he speaks with authentic credentials. And it would benefit patients to pay attention.

I think he’s laid out an ambitious platform. But one that’s timely. The social contract between medicine and society needs to be better defined and understood. The imperatives that have been driving the practice are under pressure, if not under attack. Certainly, the broader health system is beginning to suffer convulsions from such paradigm shifts as the switch from treating acute conditions to the management of chronic illness.

He spoke to the issue so critical to patients, “the social dynamic….the relationship between patient and doctor is central to what we do and what we (family doctors) are”.

We spend about $200 billion annually on healthcare in this country, building more buildings, buying more machines, equipment, etc and consider it an expense. All the think tanks that come out with a new pronouncement every week that the system is unsustainable refer to the spending as a cost.

But what if we were to start seeing this expense not as a cost but rather as an investment in the human equipment that’s at the receiving end of the delivery of care? The return on this human capital is what is going to drive change and its core change – from a patient’s perspective – is exactly the relationship to which Dr. Buchman spoke.

If this relationship is to change then respect for each other’s perspective has got to be a founding tenet. Our storytelling platform here at is open to doctors and other practitioners to share their stories – their perspective on the doctor/patient relationship and the patient experience.

Who would have predicted over 20 years ago that I’d become a patient commando  and that Dr. Buchman would become chief changemaker at the CFPC. Nevertheless, it’s a monumental opportunity for patients. By making the social dynamic a central focus of the CFPC mission, he’s placing the CFPC squarely at the intersection of medicine and humanity.

I’m admittedly biased. I’ve seen him grow personally and professionally over the last couple of decades and there’s no question in my mind that he’s an extraordinary  role model for all family doctors. For the next year, however, I’ll put my bias aside and make it my personal mission not only to monitor Dr. Buchman’s mission and hold him accountable, but to also work hard to grow as a bridge between doctors and patients to promote better understanding of how change can happen.

I wish him well. I want him to succeed. I look forward to more canoe rides.

Dr. Buchman talks about his goals for his 2011-2012 term of office.