Social Justice as the Moral Core of Family Medicine: A Perspective from the Keystone IV Conference

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A recurring conference theme was the essential place of social justice within family medicine, especially the need to focus on denominator populations, exalt the personal and caring qualities of doctoring, and address social determinants of health. Many expressed solidarity with “community,” but it is not always easy to define community in our large and diverse nation. Exhortations for health advocacy were frequently voiced, but putting these into meaningful action agendas is a challenge. There was general agreement that medicine is in flux and that the many expressions of “commodity-centered consumerism” have altered organization and financing. The increasing demands by “consumers”, who want low cost, instant availability, and shared decision-making, and yet change doctors when health plans alter coverage also differentially impact high-volume, low-margin specialties such as family medicine. Additional challenges were the electronic health record and calibrating an appropriate work/life balance. Five action steps are recommended: 1) speak out on the important social and moral issues; 2) be the experts on personal care; 3) make common cause with potential allies; 4) help institutions perceive the value of generalism; and 5) help find ways to enrich generalist disciplines to increase the joy of medicine and decrease the threat of burn out.

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