Dr. José Polo: “I would like Primary Care to be the basic pillar of the healthcare system”

INTERVIEW

Doctor in Medicine and Vice President of the Spanish Society of Primary Care Physicians (SEMERGEN), an entity which he has been connected with since 2004. He is one of the promoters of the SEMERGEN Research Agency and a member of the organizing committee for the most recent congress which broke participation records. He practices as a physician in the Casar Health Centre in Cáceres. He is also a professor of the UEX-SEMERGEN Chair in Primary Care Education and Research of the University of Extremadura, as well as the author of more than 90 national and international publications.

The 39th National Congress was held in Granada at the end of October What are the main conclusions that stand out from the board of directors?

This year’s congress, with more than 4,600 physicians, has been an incredible success in terms of attendance. For us, the most important part was the participation of young members and residents, who will lead the continuity of SEMERGEN, created in 1973, and our promotion of science and research through the Research Agency.

Is the growth of osteoarthritis alarming?

Yes, it is, due to specific conditions such as the ageing of the population: Around 28% of the world’s population over 60 years old has osteoarthritis. This is a very old and common disease, but now we’re focusing more on it because patients complain and we’re trying to resolve the symptoms, but we’re not working on prevention yet. This is our medical challenge for the future.

Tell us about the current overview of osteoarthritis in Spain. The EMARTRO study has been carried with the participation of more than 1,300 patients and 60 primary care physicians. The result? 

Patients with osteoarthritis are usually women (70.3%), frequently  overweight (75%) or obese (50%), with osteoarthritis in different parts of the body and nearly twice the likelihood of suffering other diseases compared to patients without osteoarthritis with the same characteristics. Patients with osteoarthritis also suffer anxiety and depression and consume significantly more depressants and anxiety anxiolytics than patients without osteoarthritis.

“Now we’re focusing more on osteoarthritis because patients complain and we’re trying to resolve the symptoms, but we’re not working on prevention yet”

What role do family doctors play in the research and treatment of chronic diseases such as osteoarthritis?

Since we arrived to the SEMERGEN board of directors five years ago we have promoted Primary Care research because studies until now have been carried out in hospitals. We Primary Care physicians are precisely the ones that carry out daily practice with patients and we can contribute all this knowledge, which has not yet been fully appreciated. On the other hand, if we want the training in Primary Care to be part of the universities, research is a key point.

Which pharmacological treatments do patients with osteoarthritis have?

The majority of the options are to mitigate pain such as analgesics and anti-inflammatories.

Are SYSADOAs an innovative option in this field?

SYSADOAs such as chondroitin sulfate, glucosamine and hyaluronic acid are good medications to prevent and relieve symptoms. For prevention, we also recommend leading a healthy lifestyle with a calcium-rich diet, practising moderate sport and losing weight, when appropriate.

“Our goal is for Primary Care to be a place in the Spanish healthcare system where specific scientifically-based, innovative products are investigated”

Bioibérica has promoted the PICASSO clinical trial, the first in the world to study the efficacy of combining chondroitin sulphate and glucosamine for osteoarthritis of the hand together with the three Spanish societies for family medicine (SEMERGEN, semFYC and SEMG). Why is the leadership of family doctors in this study so important?

As I’ve mentioned previously, our goal is for Primary Care to be a place in the Spanish healthcare system where specific scientifically-based, innovative products are investigated in order to be able to prescribe them.

In the professional field, what is your dream?

To ensure the recognition that Primary Care deserves in our country and for it to be the basic pillar of the healthcare systems as it is in other countries such as England or the United States. Unfortunately, we can see that the Spanish Administration is cutting investment more and more, with differences between autonomous communities, and this concerns me.

A medical or scientific milestone that has captivated you.

The research by Severo Ochoa about nucleic acids as the origin of life.

The best book that you’ve read.

I have a bit of a one-track mind, reading medicine all the time, but perhaps The Spanish Civil War, by Hugh Thomas.

Your favourite song.

Lucía by Serrat.

A great city to live.

Salamanca, where I studied medicine.

Photo: From left to right, Dr. José Polo with Dr. Luis Llisterri – © SEMERGEN

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