The video that made doctors cry

The first video of a national awareness campaign by the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) highlighting the value of general practice, has brought tears to the eyes of many GPs.

The clip starts in the seventies, when home pregnancy tests were not widely available. The young, fresh GP is visibly happy to bring the good news to a couple in his consulting room (“You have a baby on the way”). There is no computer in the room, lots of paperwork on the doctor’s desk, and we see furniture and filing cabinets from times gone by.

As we follow the couple and the doctor over the years, the consulting room changes too. If you look closely (admittedly this may be of interest to medicos only) you will see a beautiful old mercury sphygmomanometer on the trolley. Computers begin to appear on the desk. Time flies in the video; in a matter of seconds the GP and his patients age and new family members enter the consulting room.

The lifelong journey

Towards the end one of the children has become a mother. The GP, now with grey hair, says to her “we have quite the journey ahead of us,” as he gets up from his chair with the visible difficulty of an older man.

Indeed, sharing the journey through life is one of the aspects that sets the GP apart from other disciplines. And just like in the video we’re there for the minor ailments – the nits – as well as the big and often emotional life events, such as a cancer diagnosis or the death of a spouse. I think the video brings this message across very well and that may be why it triggers an emotional response.

But the video also contains another message. Observant viewers will have noticed that the GP has two framed certificates hanging on the wall at the beginning of the clip and, as time moves on, more certificates follow.

The importance of education and learning gained through fellowship of the RACGP is a key message of the campaign. A voiceover at the end tells us: “The good GP is with the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, because the good GP never stops learning.”

Criticism

There is of course, as always, criticism. Some have commented that telling patients they have to do something may not be the most effective way to encourage change – like smoking cessation. Good GPs have a conversation with their patients. Others have mentioned the video doesn’t reflect our multicultural society or the gender diversity in medicine.

Fellows of the Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine (ACRRM) may rightly say that they too are good GPs. And lastly, there seems to be a disconnect between the clip and the message about lifelong-learning at the end. It may be easier to brand general practice than a GP college.

I believe some of the criticism will be addressed in future campaign material – but it is also good not to lose sight of the bigger picture. The campaign aims to improve the recognition of GPs and general practice. If it’s as successful as the RACGP’s You’ve been targeted campaign, the promotion of general practice will benefit all those working in primary care, and more importantly, our patients.

Strong general practice

Personally I hope the campaign opens the eyes of some politicians. Australians rate their doctors in the top-3 of most honest and trusted professions and they visit the GP on average 5-6 times per year. GPs are good value when it comes to spending tax payers money: The average GP consultation costs $50, compared to for example $400-600 per service in a hospital emergency department.

It is a good idea to reduce waste and duplication in healthcare, but poorly targeted cuts and freezes will do more harm than good to the health of Australians. We must also reduce the amount of red tape and stay away from more bureaucracy, like NHS-style revalidation – so doctors can look after their patients instead.

The success of a campaign depends on the people who support it. In a video message directed at doctors RACGP president Dr Frank Jones said: “Talk to your patients and key people in your community about the importance of general practice. Our training and the accreditation standards are why the good GP never stops learning.”

The video touched the hearts of many GPs, but in the end it’s the impact on patients that matters most. I hope its positivity will be contagious.