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GPs: unsung heroes

Opinion piece | Associate Professor William Tam

AMA Family Doctor Week 22 - 28 July 2018

One of the great things about working as a doctor is that everyone agrees that health is important. One of the less great things is that health is so important, everyone wants a piece of it.

In line to give you ‘health advice’ may be your fitness instructor, with a list of dietary tips; the wellness blogger whose Instagram you follow; a pseudo-scientist with a hormone cure; or the celebrity chef with a diet against cancer.

Medicine and health would not have advanced without challenges to the status quo. But these advances have evidence at their heart, and scientific rigour to guide them. That is unfortunately not the case with much of the health ‘information’ we are bombarded with in advertising, online, and even in mainstream news publications.
How do you weed the good from the bad? One key is to look to reputable sources, but it is getting harder and harder to tell the ’fake news’ from the evidence-based advice. Where do you go to find out?

The best person to ask is your general practitioner. GPs not only keep up with the evidence, they also keep up with you, your health conditions and your personal circumstances. For example, a herbal treatment that may be harmless for some can cause kidney failure in others. A diet exclusion may help or hinder. A ‘chiropractic’ problem may in fact be heralding something else.

In medicine, much of the glamour attaches to the dramatic act. The surgeon who does the near-impossible. The new device that can return lost functions. The anaesthetist and dive expert who bravely helps rescue lost boys from a cave.

In this world, general practitioners are our unsung health heroes. They study for a minimum of 10 to 15 years to reach their professional standing, and manage 90 percent of the problems patients present. They make it through the rigours of medical school and a demanding and wide-ranging postgraduate program. As ‘general’ practitioners, they are schooled in everything, and they are there for you.

GPs see many patients and countless problems in their practice. Amongst every swathe of coughs and aches that may mean little, are hidden signs of something more. GPs save lives and prevent disease every day, and I stand in awe of what they do.

This week is the AMA’s national Family Doctor Week, running from 22-28 July. If it has been a while, or if you have a question or concern, I would urge you to not put off the medical check-up any longer, and consult with one of our top health experts: your GP.

Associate Professor William Tam is president of the Australian Medical Association (SA).