Wednesday, September 11, 2013

#Supertwision at #GPET13

It didn't look like this in real life.  Picture from Medical Observer
Michael and I presented at the GPET Convention in Perth today on our experience with #Supertwision. It's been very interesting reviewing what we've discussed since January and the variety of people who have contributed to the discussion. It's been a bit quiet of late on the #Supertwision hashtag as Michael and I have both been away, and busy with other stuff.

There was a large audience present (there were 3 other papers presented too) and lots of interest afterwards in real life and on Twitter, inlcuding from those following outside the convention on the #GPET13 hashtag. (It's worth noting on the side at this point that there are a large number of my Twitter heroes here, almost all of whom I am meeting for the first time. It's made for a high quality conference feed, I reckon).

Anyway, presenting at GPET has given #Supertwision a bit of a kick back into action, starting here. This is an opportunity to see what we've done so far, and to catch up if you are new to the idea.

I don't need to write much, because here is the Prezi!

The Prezi is pretty self-explanatory,  but you might be interested in exploring more yourself, so these are the links to the information we've used to compile the presentation.

This is the initial description of Supertwision on this blog.

And this is the post describing Supertwision on Croakey

We also got some coverage in Medical Observer (may need log-in)

The stats for the hashtag can be found on Symplur - feel free to dig and let us know in the comments or on the Twitter hashtag if you discover anything interesting!

And for the completists among you, you can even see a transcript of all the tweets since the beginning

But you might be more interested to read Michael's story of finding a training practice and how he came to Tharawal in Medical Observer (which may need a log-in)

We'd love to hear your thoughts on what else you think we should be covering, or if you want to try some Supertwision yourselves. Tweet us or comment below.

And I really have to finish with the last slide in the Prezi. Thanks to everyone who has contributed (that we are aware of!) so far.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Teaching during a day of clinical general practice

There are many reasons I love my work. One of the reasons is that it is impossible to be bored! We see a whole range of people who believe they have or might have a problem and want to discuss it. Sometimes, that might be a significant medical emergency. Sometimes it might be a significant chronic disease. Sometimes it might be a significant mental illness, or a self limiting condition, or a request for information or support to get housing. Sometimes it might be loneliness. Often these occur together in the same person. This list could be endless - the only limit is the world population and imagination. And there is almost nothing where we can say "That's not our business."

So how do you teach that? In essence, we need a safe approach for anything that can come through the door. And that means there is no learning off limits, nothing we can learn that can have no application. But we can't know everything.

I thought it might be interesting just to post the variety of topics that Michael and I covered in one day, Admittedly it was a day where we had more chance to chat than usual. But the range covered would not be unusual. I'll describe what we did, and reflect a bit on why this might be relevant to General Practice. (Some of the info might be a bit vague - I don't want to run the risk of any patients being identified! Confidentiality is a cornerstone of our work!)

As you'd expect, we do talk about medical conditions and treatments.

COPD and inhalers

A quick discussion in the corridor on the use of Salmeterol/Fluticasone combination (you all know it by another name: "The Purple Inhaler!") in COPD. The evidence shows that people are more likely to have a serious pneumonia on a steroid inhaler. The long acting beta agonist is probably helpful, but we should be cautious about the combination. This wasn't the information we were often taught about this combination, and we have both felt a bit duped by drug companies!

A Rash!

There probably isn't a day in General Practice where you can't use a rash as a teaching opportunity. We're usually taught rashes as if pattern recognition is the only game in town, but it's always always always worth sitting on your hands before looking at the rash and taking a history. It's true for any set of symptoms, and it's true for rashes. And diagnosis isn't the only game in town. You need to be able to form a management plan acceptable to the patient (or their parents) and explain it and understand and alleviate any particular concerns.

 Rare Diseases

Every GP has a few people they know well with a rare disease. The care of a patient with a rare disease can't really be discussed online, because the person is all too readily identifiable. As GPs we are so unlikely to see any one particular rare disease, so we don't usually know about them until we see them. But as GPs, we also know that these are people, and the diagnosis of a rare condition isn't what defines them as  person - though it often has  huge impact. We thought about whether the symptoms my patient had might be related to their rare condition, or whether they might be something else more common, perhaps unrelated. After all, people with rare diseases need the rest of their medical care, too, including preventive care. And I had one of those frisoons of pleasure as Michael quoted back at me the paper I'd co-written. (I think he knew this!) (I'm biased, but I think it's worth a read - it sets out the common problems faced by people with a rare disease, and also an approach GPs might take)

Childhood Obesity

Michael and I have discussed the problem of obesity and food security quite often (and I have drawn on these thoughts blogging here and here) and we have shared Michael Pollan's books which take a cultural view of healthy food, rather than a nutritional approach. On Tuesday, we listened to this podcast from Freakonomics, which highlighted discussions from a range of experts across different fields. It was interesting to see the personal responsibility versus social policy play out again, as well as a search for technical solutions. If you're thinking aboout setting up a tapeworm company, there might well be an opening for you...

Over to you
The day finished with me (Tim) learning 2 things. I learnt what Takotsubo syndrome was. And I learnt that I was the only person in the world who'd never heard of it before!

We'd love to hear your thoughts on these topics - either using the #supertwision hashtag or in the comments below. What's the range of things you cover? What's the strangest resource you've used?

Monday, April 22, 2013

What does a registrar bring to a practice?

So would been quite a while since I had the opportunity to make a supertwision post.

My last post had foreshadowed a discussion about what I bring to the practice. Tharawal has been a hive of activity since I last posted and mainly in relation to three topics:

         1.While Tharawal is particularly good at looking after chronic disease patients all too often that care is fragmented and we do not access the appropriate funded models of care. One of the things that I have been working on is about making chronic disease a simpler entity to manage within our practice. This means utilising a number of the indigenous chronic disease item numbers more effectively and also returning chronic disease to being a multidisciplinary care because at the moment's much of it is done in isolation with individual practitioners; nursing, allied health and medical all taking on separate responsibilities.

While this isn't a definitively clinical action for a new registrar it certainly is something that I'm interested in my past experience with health systems and also with health policy. The work is taking a couple of days to streamline our approach accessing appropriate item numbers and educating our practice as to how to co-ordinate care.

I was lucky enough to sit down with the Menzies School of Health Research and go through their analysis of the Indigenous Chronic Disease Package over the last two years. Campbelltown was a sentinel site for the evaluation of the project and so there has been quantitative and qualitative review of the implementation and uptake. Better chronic disease management starts with evidence.

Over the last few weeks, I have been working with our nursing staff and allied health providers as well as setting up specialist pathways to ensure that team care arrangements and chronic disease management plans.

One of the highlight programs at Tharawal is Djurali, which focuses on exercise and nutrition, using both practical and behavioural change approaches. This kind of long-term intervention is exactly what GPs often do not do well. The acute needs of patients are what take the majority of our time. This model of presenting to the doctor is also how we have educated our patients and means we are always treating illness rather than promoting better health.

For much of the new work that I'm looking at I'm trying to take a step back and take the advice of the experts in chronic disease: our nurses, Aboriginal health workers and allied health staff. From that we can look at where we each member of a multi-disciplinary team can best ‘value-add’ to the process and optimize our scarcest resource: time. Over the next few months it is my plan to develop a business case for a chronic disease nurse to manage a better system of regular proactive appointments with our chronic disease patients. What we are seeking is more active engagement with patients on their terms, where we try to recognise, understand and overcome the barriers to good chronic disease management.

           2.My second project has also been in the space of chronic disease management. Our greatest weapon in fighting chronic disease is knowledge and data. Learning about our computer systems at Tharawal it is apparent, especially in discussion with Tim, that at times this system hampers us from correctly identifying patients for interventions. One of the very small projects I have taken on is to place a single clinical item descriptor that is common to everyone with any chronic disease in our system. This means that finding those patients with chronic disease is significantly simpler for secondary prevention interventions. While it is a small thing, making sure that individuals do not fall through the cracks when it comes to being recognised as someone with a chronic disease is exceptionally important.

           3.The final area I have been working in is a much smaller, time-limited projects which is to show how larger-scale interaction with our community works. As part of the influenza vaccination programme for 2013 I asked that we identify all patients in our practice over the age of 55 as a group, to proactively target those who should be receiving the flu vaccine.

My plans are for a single afternoon of vaccinations with a number of staff members supporting the activity. It is turning out to take a little bit longer than I thought it would. Both reaching and convincing patients to come into the practice for this vaccination campaign would not have been possible without one of our aboriginal health workers, who is incredibly respected within the community. The vaccination afternoon is coming up quickly and we’ll share how it goes and that which does and doesn’t work on the blog soon.

It is becoming apparent that more than anything else I bring some more energy, an extra set of hands and importantly a new set of eyes. Taking on new projects or recognising that business as usual is good but could be improved is one of the greatest reasons to have a registrar in your practice. The inputs of supervisor’s time are a small investment to create long-term gains.

I wrote recently for Medical Observer regarding the matchmaking by registrars applying to general practices. It is all about fit and determining what you bring to the practice, if there are other registrars who are reading this blog remember that what you bring is often new perspective on old problems.

In other news, we are soon to be joined by Kate Bowman @kate_bowman, a medical student from Manchester in the United Kingdom who will be working with us for four weeks as part of an overseas elective. We are delighted to have her on board and look forward to her perspective.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

An invitation to cultural-X

It's impossible to work in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health without realising the need for cultural awareness, cultural safety or cultural competence. So good on my colleague David Chessor for posing this tweet as a challenge to this blog.

 You won't be surprised to know I do have thoughts on this, based around my own experience of trying to do this to the best of my ability, and based around listening to the views of my patients. I do not teach cultural awareness or cultural safety or cultural competence, though. I am not Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander. None of these cultures are mine, I am an outsider with the observations of an outsider. The best I can do is describe the skills I use (and that the literature describes) to work across cultural difference. However, it's not for me to judge whether I succeed - that honour goes to my patients, and they will proudly tell them where I go wrong, and I am grateful to them for that.

In teaching appropriate work across cultures its important not just to describe the approaches required, but to role model them, to perform them. What better opportunity does social media provide than to do this. I don't want to write this blog post. I want as many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as possible to tell me and other doctors how we should do it. There's a big movement in medical education to make good use of social media, and the absence of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health has been noted in this - this is where we can correct this, and provide practical advice in a way that is culturally appropriate (I hope!). I want this blog post to be written by you, not just by me with space for comments. (I'll do the work to curate the responses)

There is some evidence that GPs in training don't like the term cultural safety. For this reason I wonder about acknowledging the work of @IndigenousX for Indigenous Excellence. What we are trying to achieve is Cultural Excellence, so why not Cultural-X?

So - how do you want your doctor (and other health professionals) to behave? How do you know if they've been culturally appropriate? Do you have examples of where you'vee seen it done well and where it's been done badly? If you have experience in health or even if you've ever seen a doctor (or if you've never seen a doctor because we've been a bit rubbish!) I want to hear from you. We can show how social medfia can be used to improve the health care you receive. It could even influence the doctor who will see you and your family members.

So contact me by twitter (@timsenior) or via the blog or e-mail. Let's see what we can create.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Close the Gap or Closing the Gap?

Today is National Close the Gap Day. A few months ago, there I was publicising it on Twitter, and I got into a conversation with someone critical of the campaign. They said it “raised money to promote government interference in Aboriginal communities.” I think the Close the Gap campaign and Closing the Gap were being thought of interchangeably.
I’ve seen confusion about this, both in social media and in real life, even among those who are quite involved in working in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. (Alright, that was me. But I’m not the only one!)
So here is your cut out and keep guide (Warning – print off before attempting to do any cutting!) to Close the Gap and Closing the Gap.
This is the campaign which started in 2008, responsible for the National Close the Gap days. It was kickstarted by the Social JusticeReport written by Tom Calma setting out a human rights based approach to health. A broad coalition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations and non-indigenous health and social care organisations worked together to promote and build support for the cause and set out how equity might be achieved. The Steering Committee is co-chaired by the Social Justice Commissioner, Mick Gooda, and the co-chair of the National Congress ofAustralias First Peoples, Jody Broun. You probably know Oxfam are involved, as they have been responsible for the campaigning expertise, but there are many other organisations involved, such as NACCHO, AIDA, the Healing Foundation, the AMA, the RACGP, ANTAR, even the NRL. You can see a full list here. Close the Gap an unprecedented coalition of support across many organisations. To date 185,000 people have pledged their support. You can do so too. (And you won’t find it asking for a donation, though you can buy some nifty merchandise!) You could argue that the campaign has been such a success that government used the same terminology!
This is the name given to a series of government programs with the aim of achieving indigenous equity. It has set 6 goals, not all of them health related, and each year at the opening of parliament the government makes a statement to parliament of progress on the goals. (The Close the Gap produce a parallel Shadow Report, and it’s worth reading both!) In the health arena, Closing the Gap is responsible for initiatives like the PracticeIncentives Program, the Closing the Gap PBS Co-payment to make prescriptions affordable, and measures to promote access to specialist and multidisciplinary medical care.
Why do I need to know this?
I’m biased, but I think it’s worth knowing this difference. The Close the Gap campaign is independent of government and is able to offer policy advice and criticise policy. As it is led by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations it is able to represent what indigenous communities around Australia need to improve their health. The Campaign itself is not just a campaign, but models the ways of working in partnership for which it advocates. You can confidently support the campaign knowing that you are supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people making decisions for themselves and taking leadership in health.
That’s not to say that Closing the Gap should not be supported. Seeing bipartisan support for one of the most important issues facing Australia today is not to be taken for granted, especially in the current political climate. There are some undoubtedly good things in the Closing the Gap measures, and the program certainly talks about working in partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, and I believe they do genuinely want to do so.
Looked at from an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person’s perspective, though, government initiatives and commitments need to work hard to develop trust in communities. For over 200 years now, governments have been engaged in doing things to Aboriginal people, starting with massacresand missions and continuing with the forced removal of children from theirfamilies, which continued up to 1970. Every day in my clinical work, I am dealing with the consequences of this right now. It’s easy for non-indigenous people to think this is all in the past, but right now the Northern Territory Emergency Response, initially called the Northern Territory Intervention, is going on. Human Rights legislation had to be suspended to do this, and it is an action that has been widely criticised by Aboriginal communities across Australia and the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights.(PDF). For Aboriginal people, this is part of a continuing history of governments doing things to them. It’s worth noting in passing that this program is now called Closing the Gap in theNorthern Territory.
(Incidentally, for some insight into how policy is determined by its media coverage, read my Croakey post)
You can see the effect of this history, just by listening to what Aboriginal people are saying. For example in this paper about the care provided in Aboriginal Medical Services, there is a poignant exchange between Aboriginal health workers which speaks volumes about trust. 

In this poignant interaction between a board member (P1) and AHW (P2) both felt there was a hidden agenda to eliminate AMSs altogether, replacing them with poor quality ‘mainstream’ health care.

P1: They (government community health services) shouldn’t think that they are superior to the AMS team. That sort of an attitude, they should cut it out.
P2: That attitude will stay around for a long time until the boss of this organisation says something to them.
P1:They say that we need their services but that doesn’t mean they should come and tell us to do this, do this, do this… They try to bung low grade services onto us… If we look a little bit further down the track, say five or ten years, there won’t be any more AMSs. They will have become mainstream services.
P2: That’s a plan of the minister… low grade services.

The tweep I quoted at the beginning goes on to say “solutions to aboriginal health must prioritise stopping govt interference in family & community”
Close the Gap  is led Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations themselves with links back into communities across Australia. It has built a broad based coalition of support and is being listened to by governments. It is not responsible for the delivery of policy, but is able to set out what needs to be done to achieve health equity in a generation.

A final word – it is hard to remember, so here’s a handy mnemonic I made up: To remember the difference between Close the Gap and Closing the Gap, just think that the ING stands for In Government. Easy.
Now all you need to do is support the Close the Gap Campaign, sign the pledge and join an event today. It’s a cause that all Australians can support.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Bridges Over Chasms - A student writes...

I was thrilled to hear from my friend, colleague and naked doctor (yes, he tells me he really is naked under all those clothes) Justin Coleman this week. He has been using the #Supertwision conversations with his registrar and medical students. One of his students, Susanna Rossotti, wrote this for us as a result of her attachment at Inala in Brisbane.

I admire her passion. There's a sense in GP registrars and medical students coming through that the current situation is unjust and must be changed. There is never any doubt that it will be, or any doubt that they will be involved in changing it. Like them, I am also very optimistic. It's one of the few issues currently on which we have bipartisan support, a real achievement in the current political climate. Tomorrow there will be a record number of events - close to 1000 - held for National Close the Gap day. The gap in health outcomes is one that will be closed. And that can't come soon enough.

Bridges over Chasms
By Susanna Rossotti, 4th yr med student, Griffith University

One of my primary motivations for beginning this journey in medicine was to provide health care to people in disadvantaged communities. I had heroic visions of working for Medecins sans Frontiers in countries ravaged by war or natural disasters. Little did I know that there was a natural disaster still unfolding within the apparent safe confines of the beautiful sunburnt country that is Australia. This natural disaster is not of the variety that garners short-lived sensationalism by media, or any sort of significant mainstream media attention at all. But it is cataclysmic nonetheless. It is the state of affairs for the first custodians of Australia. These custodians successfully lived in some of the harshest conditions and their inherent respect for the land and their natural environment ensured its pristine preservation until the arrival of the white fella. While I still have much to learn about what happened to the indigenous custodians of Australia, I have learnt enough to feel that their very functional traditional way of life has been destroyed. Their social fabric, their culture, their sense of self respect and worth has been severely battered. No human being, regardless of race, could survive such a battering without crippling emotional wounds and scars with inevitable sequelae for physical and mental health.

I am a white fella and I have struggled for some time to define what it is that draws me to indigenous health. Today I may finally have arrived at a definitive answer: I perceive an enormous miscarriage of social justice which threatens the very survival of one the world’s most ancient people. On a global level, I want to help them work towards preservation of their existence in the gene pool. On a local level, I want to help build bridges over chasms that have opened between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians. I want to show indigenous people that I respect and value their heritage. I want to learn more about who these amazing first custodians are. And I want to take what I learn back to my non-indigenous friends and colleagues, in the hope that this will further help to close the gap between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians.

Friday, March 15, 2013

How to get the most out of a job in indigenous health

It may not surprise you to know that working in Aboriginal health is a really good fit for me. Though I do find it fulfilling and I love the work, I also find it difficult and emotionally draining. Nothing worth doing is easy, though, and there is some research into what makes people stay, and even thrive. One of the pleasures and rejuvenators for me, and I know for many other doctors, is teaching. We have had many very good GP Registrars (doctors doing higher level training for their GP qualification) come through at Tharawal, and as you'll know if you're following this blog, Dr Michael Bonning is our current registrar.

I thought it might be useful to write about, and invite discussion on, getting the most out of an indigenous health attachment.

On the ground

The advice at its simplest can be summed up as "Throw yourself in wholeheartedly!" Michael can't write this (because he's too modest!) but he has managed to do this and then some. Since he started in January, Michael has presented teaching for staff on burns management, for the pre-school on seizures in children. He's restarted the journal club. He's been getting a box of beautiful fruit and vegetables from our community food box program and has been attending Boot Camp. He's been involved in teaching medical students, nursing students and a student physician assistant. As a result of this, he's been invited to meet with the Men's group. It's also worth mentioning that he has been seeing patients, too, and that's because they are comfortable seeing him becuase they've met him outside the consulting room. He's also invited Brian Owler, NSW AMA president to visit, too! He has respect for the nurses, Aboriginal Health Workers, receptionsists, dietician, and all the other non-medical staff. Of course everyone says they have this, but it's from actions that you know - a "high-five" moment with Nikki, one of our nurses as a nasty leg ulcer healed is one of those actions.

(Michael is not the first or only registrar who has thrown themselves into many activities in the service, but this is #supertwision and so we get to open up what he does!)

The big picture

There aren't many GPs who work in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health - 483 in clinical work at the latest count - and so there is a need to ensure future GPs are trained to be able to work well with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Some will go on to work in Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services, but more will become GPs who will see Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as part of their day to day clinical work. This is certainly true in rural areas, but the largest numbers of indigenous people live in urban areas, so this is not exclusively a rural issue.

The not-so-secret secret is that if you can do good general practice in an Aboriginal health setting, you can do it anywhere. You can do truly patient centred medicine, you can gain trust with people traditionally underserved by health services. You can engage and listen well to communities. You can consult effectively across cultures. You can handle chronic disease, and particularly complex conditions and co-morbidity. The skills are transferrable to other settings - but only if you are able to immerse yourself in the local community and listen to their wisdom. Which is what makes attachments in Aboriginal health so much fun when you do them. When a community starts to like you as a doctor, they don't let go!

I'd love to hear other people's thoughts and experiences. Post them in the comments below or on Twitter with the #Supertwision hashtag.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Why are you here and not somewhere else?

This is a piece of installation art by Jeppe Heine, which lives in the Booth School of Business at the University of Chicago. To me it asks the question of what is important and why does it matter. It is just the right question to bring together what I’ve been thinking about over the last week at Tharawal:

  • Why am I here?
  • Now that I’m here what am I trying to achieve?
  • Why do patients come here?

In this post I’ll deal with the first question and then move on to the others I love going to work – wherever that work might be. Tharawal like some, but not all, of the places I have worked has a great vibe – that quality that is difficult to quantify, takes many forms but you know it when you see it. At Tharawal it stems from individual and community ownership of the work – this is the reason for Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations.

And that ownership means services exist that actually benefit our patients. Trying to find useful services (outside of your own area of practice expertise) is often one of the banes of trying to deliver good healthcare. Tharawal is a magnet for great clinicians and members of the community. That, in turn, engenders a degree of drive amongst the whole team to deliver better care.  The practice escapes from the notion of individuality and that each person is trying to achieve something on their own. 

And I’m now a part of that team.

The best experiences of my training have been where this kind of team exists.  You can’t quite know this is going to be the case when you pick a practice.  But sometimes there are inklings. Now that I’m here the concept of ‘fit’ comes into play.  I’m still new to the place but the first steps have been promising. There are projects with Tim, ideas for improving current programs, outlets for my own teaching interests and a challenging clinical environment.

So I’ve lucked into a great job and now is the chance for me (and Tim) to make something of it. This week has involved the first draft of a conference abstract to both talk about the conception of supertwision and also to give us an idea of where we are going. Doing that is giving me a better understanding of what I am trying to achieve while at Tharawal – the subject of the next post.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

The start of something...

When Tim Senior and I started together, it was with a degree of excitement that has continued to mark our relationship in the practice. It was a Tuesday afternoon, my first in the practice, and Tim was letting me in on his plans for #supertwision. In the intervening weeks the plans have grown and become better informed as we both come up with ideas about how to engage with social media with general practice in the context of indigenous health.


Across the first weeks in the practice (as I slowly put together this post) I reflected on what my perspectives are about the delivery of healthcare. The basic determinants of health have been a sideline in the previous parts of my career looking after people in a tertiary teaching hospital. The ideas of wellbeing including personal freedoms, good social relations AND physical health are the cornerstone of indigenous health. Wellbeing considers a more holistic view of health which is in keeping with the concept that:


There is no word in Aboriginal languages for health.”

Prof Judy Atkinson


It is becoming clearer, from the first few weeks and Tim’s pearls, that a ‘traditional’ view of the general practice consults won’t reach through to encompass true wellbeing. Trying to find a consult style that works will be a big part of what I blog about over the next 6 months.


This is my first exposure to general practice in an Aboriginal Medical Service and also my GPT1 term (my first term as a trainee on the Australian General Practice Training Program). So even understanding general practice in the healthcare system is a little alien to me. The practice room is now starting to feel like my own and a place for expression for the people who come in.


My postgraduate career has been a bit of a mixed bag; working for the military, having clinical interests in maternal & child health and mental health, working my way through a Masters in Public Health and taking a stint away from clinical practice to be an advocate for the health profession. But maybe it’s the kind of mixed bag that will make for a successful and enjoyable journey in indigenous health, you can watch my progress and tell us what you think.


Follow our journey here at the blog, with the #supertwision hashtag and with each of our accounts (@timsenior and @michaelbonning) where we both post on things in healthcare and beyond that interest us.


Saturday, February 2, 2013

What should new GPs read?

There are many doctors around Australia who have just started their higher professional training to become a GP, the most effective of medical specialists. The learning curve from hospital to primary care is often steep. People can present with anything, everything and nothing, the medical is intertwined with the social, cultural, economic and political, and working out what to do can be quite unclear. All of this happens in a room with a closed door and no one else around, unlike in the hospital wards, which are far from private. It's testament to the quality of doctors choosing to do GP training and the quality of GPs doing the training that so many do so well.

So, with this in mind, and now a couple of weeks in, it's worth thinking about what would be ideal introductory reading for a new GP?

I received a few very interesting suggestions on Twitter.

 It's interesting that when people want to recommend reading to produce good GPs, they don't go for writing about diseases, they go for writing about understanding humans in difficult circumstances, often serious illness.

(The obvious exception is Deborah Verran's suggestion. Will the use of social media be so crucial that we all need to know it? Is it comparable with, say, skills like minor surgery, breaking bad news or clinical audit - whether we like it or not we are just going to have to do it? I'd love to hear your thoughts on this - comment below or tweet on the #supertwision hashtag)

What would I suggest? Here would be my top 3 suggested readings. Of course, I might change my mind, but these are today's thoughts. And, somewhat to my suprise, this is all core general practice literature. But all three have changed my practice for the better.

3. General Practice by Prof John Murtagh
What Australian GP could go without Murtagh? Just about every GP I know has one close at hand. Though the clinical chapters are excellent, the safe diagnostic strategy outlined in the early part of the book is gold for any GP at any stage in their career.

2. The Doctor, his patient and the illness by Michael Balint
Excuse the inappropriate gender specific pronoun here. This book was published in 1957, and is arguably the best book on general practice ever written. This was the book that moved general practice away from a purely biomedical paradigm and made the profession take an interest in the dynamics of what was happening when a doctor and a patient meet in a room. There's been a lot of other work done on this since then, but Balint is still a cracking read, full of mind-expanding insight. You can get a taste of the ideas here. ("the most frequently used drug in general practice was the doctor himself”). Don't rely just on this summary - do read the book. And don't worry if you're not sure about the group methodology - the insights are still valuable.

1. The Mystery of General Practice by Iona Heath
This is the best, and most beautifully written, description of general practice I have come across. It's a must-read for anyone interested in what your family doctor does. It's short (easily the shortest of these threee recommendations) and you can download it for free at the link above. You might start reading and worry about the relevance of commentary on 18 year old health reforms in another country. But don't worry. It's highly relevant still, and the description of the role of a GP in a community and in reducing health inequalities will make you proud of your chosen profession.

Those are my top 3 picks. I'd love to hear your suggestions, either tweeted on the #supertwision hashtag, or posted as comments here. And if you don't post your suggestions, Michael Bonning will have to read what I suggest. Is that really fair?