Sometimes Dr Grumble's patients seem very surprised that he is not aware of some latest miracle medical breakthrough. This is usually because Dr Grumble does not read the Daily Mail.
Recently Dr G was asked to comment on a story about a wonderful new operation being conducted on the other side of the globe for a common problem. A journalist wanted to know if the operation was available in the UK. The hack was unable to say what the operation was. He hadn't read the scientific publication and seemed incapable of accessing it. So Dr Grumble read it for him. The truth was nothing like the stories being reported by other journalists who, presumably, also cannot have read the original publication. Sometimes journalists do not want the truth to get in the way of a good story but in this case the journalist listened to Dr Grumble and no article appeared. The Daily Mail has now gone up in the Grumble estimations.
It is very unfair to the public to tell them some wonderful new operation is available when the reality is something different. Desperate patients are vulnerable. When it comes to matters of medicine, people tend to believe newspaper articles which is unwise. They are even more likely to believe their friends which is equally unwise. It is something to do with trust. Building up trust takes time. Perhaps that's why patients over and over again say they like to see the same doctor. Doctors certainly find it easier to see the same patient. The trust that has been built up is part of this.
Knowing the very latest about scientific research is not essential to the practice of medicine and is even less important to patients. How many times have you read about a cancer breakthrough on the front pages? Things that initially appear to be wonderful, on reflection, can turn out to be not quite what they seem. Altering practice on the basis of the very latest publication is not always wise. The most junior of doctors may want to do this. Their problem is that they have not lived long enough to have seen things go in full circle.
Some journalists overestimate the importance of scientific news. Here's a sentence from a recent editorial in New Scientist:
HOW would you feel if you discovered that your child's doctor was unaware of recent findings in neuroscience? It's likely you'd be worried.
Hmmm. The article goes on to have a go at teachers who are apparently pretty ignorant when it comes to recent findings in neuroscience. Dr Grumble is a teacher and recently he has become interested in research into teaching methods. Being initially very ignorant himself on the topic he was surprised at the lack of an evidence base for the different ways you can teach. At first he thought that medicine must be way ahead of teaching with the concept of controlled trials forming an evidence base to support best practice. But the reality is that most medical decision making cannot be read off from an evidence-based protocol. And when it comes to exploring different methods of teaching it turns out that it is very difficult to do a controlled trial. The reason is that if you compare two teaching methods the students that are given the poorer method tend to plug knowledge gaps with work outside the classroom making it very difficult to show a difference between groups.
Journalists can be a bit harsh on professionals. "I blame the teachers" is their populist clarion call. It is a shame New Scientist should stoop this low. You can drive a car from A to B without knowing what is under the bonnet. You can be a good teacher without being familiar with the latest research. And your doctor could look after your child while being unaware of "recent findings in neuroscience."