Promising breakthrough: dramatic miracle cure offers hope to victims

The problem with headlines about medical breakthroughs and miracle cures is that they never live up to the expectations. On the other hand, the breakthroughs happening every day in primary care do not attract much media attention.

Seventeen years ago medical journalist professor Schwitzer published the seven words you shouldn’t use in medical news: ‘promise’, ‘breakthrough’, ‘dramatic’, ‘miracle’, ‘cure’, ‘hope’ and ‘victim’. Has Schwitzer’s taboo list made an impact?

Words you shouldn't use in medical news
Source: Twitter

Not really. A quick Google search shows that the same words are still used to celebrate ‘heroic medicine’ – often surgical interventions, new drugs or medical technologies. Scientific progress and developments are important but not always easily translated to every day care for every day Australians. They are never ‘miracle cures’.

At the same time we are seeing an increase in spending on hospital treatments but little investment in keeping Australians healthy and out of hospital. Although the breakthroughs in primary care are not regarded as newsworthy, they are often life-changing.

Dramatic & miraculous examples

Here are some of the amazing health ‘breakthroughs’ that are happening every day in Australian communities:

The patient who, supported by her general practice team, feels so much better after getting control of her diabetes. The person with a mental health condition who, after many months of hard work, and treatment by his psychologist and GP, is able to do the groceries again without a panic attack.

The woman who died peacefully at home, according to her wishes with close family around and supported by her GP and the palliative care team. The obese man who has been able to lose weight as a result of determination and regular contact with his GP and allied health team.

The patients who were glad they came in for a blood pressure check or immunisation because the general practice team picked up a heart murmur or melanoma. The highly anxious child who returned to school with help from the multidisciplinary team – much to the relief of the parents.

Medical news: wrong headlines
News headlines: room for improvement?

 

The courageous person who opened up and told his GP or practice nurse what he has never shared with anyone else before – and made a start to change his life. The worried parents demanding antibiotics for their feverish baby, but eventually leaving the GP practice relieved and without a script because they know the infection is self-limiting.

The hospital admissions avoided through a phone call by the GP – with a concerned patient, allied health professional, aged care facility nurse or hospital doctor. The elderly, isolated and malnourished patient who improved and continued to live independently with support from community nurses and the general practice team.

The consultation around the plastic bag of medication boxes brought in by a patient after a visit to the hospital – an essential chat about which tablets to take and when, to make sure she gets better.

Promising breakthroughs

Professor Lesley Russell Wolpe wrote in Inside Story about the value of incremental care. She said: “Heroic medicine has its place, but treating it as the core of medicine means that the majority of government funding goes to hospitals, acute care and elective surgery, a situation that is reinforced by the political imperative to deliver visible returns in a short election cycle.”

She said: “Treating general practice as a speciality in its own right — along the lines of the current advertising campaign ‘I’m not just a GP. I’m your specialist in life’ run by the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners — would help. Ensuring that primary care has the resources to keep up with its central role in the healthcare system is also vital.”

In the years ahead more ‘dramatic breakthroughs’ will continue to come from primary care teams who, day in and day out, assist people with important health decisions and adjustments in their lives. It is time to change the headlines. It is time for decision-makers to increase their support for primary care.

As RACGP president Dr Bastian Seidel said in The Australian: “Our patients want health, they don’t necessarily want treatment”.

Doctors get sick too

Doctors get sick too
Image: pixabay.com

I took a sickie the other day. Nothing serious, but when you’re in the line of fire you get burned now and then. Patients always respond the same. They may say, half-surprised half-joking: “I didn’t know doctors could get sick.”

I can kind of see the humour of a sick doctor, but unfortunately finishing medical school doesn’t make us immune. Yes, I had my flu shot this year. No, I didn’t write a doctor’s certificate for myself. I also don’t have a secret cure that prevents me from falling ill.

Have a look at the headlines in the news this week, and you will be forgiven for thinking that medical science can cure anything:

“Implantable device ‘lowers blood pressure’ through electrical brain pulses”

“Duchenne muscular dystrophy may be treated with erectile dysfunction drug”

“DNA used to build tool that may literally shine light on cancer”

“3D-printer hearts ‘in 10 years’”

“Immunotherapy may work in cancers: study”

Hope vs false expectations

Health news is usually positive, which is great as most other news is depressing. News about scientific discoveries and new medical treatments gives us hope. Hope that one day, we may be able to live without suffering. But it also creates false expectations.

I would like to see more headlines that reflect reality, like:

“Doctors often don’t know cause of illness”

“Lifestyle just as important as medical treatment”

“Many diseases still without cure”

“If you eat healthy you probably don’t need supplements”

“Doctors get sick too”

Writer and philosopher Alain de Botton wants the news to take on new roles. I think he’s got a point. He warns about our appetite for the latest news: “We constantly want a new update on things and it’s become very hard to talk to ourselves… the news is from outside and any of that quieter news that bubbles up from within is being squashed by endless stories.”

The news often only tells part of the story and this may cause anxiety. It would be good if the news could educate us a bit more and help us to put things into context.