26 February 2018

How can GPs stay up to date with rapid changes in medical knowledge?

Education General Practice


It’s a problem as old as the profession. Harvard University Professor Nicholas Christakis said it in 1910: ‘there has always been and will always be too much to know. Medical knowledge is theoretically and practically limitless.’

However, the current rates of expansion of medical knowledge far exceed what Christakis could have imagined. A doctor practising in 1950 would have seen medical knowledge double every 50 years. In 2010, the rate was at 3.5 years, and by 2020, it will only take 73 days1 for existing medical knowledge to double in size.

While a GP is expected to continue their own education and professional development, given the rapidly expanding landscape of medical knowledge, this process is not what it used to be.

There are more conditions to diagnose, the diagnostic investigations are changing, treatments are changing, and the available drugs for treatment are growing at an exponential rate.

Dr Tony Bartone, Vice President of the Australian Medical Association, is a GP based in Melbourne and has been in the industry for over 30 years. He agrees that part of the problem in keeping up to date with medical knowledge is that ‘there is so much of it. The sources of your medical knowledge now – the areas you can go looking for it – have exploded.’

GPs are expected to keep up to date with current medical knowledge at the same time that they manage their busy working lives. A University of Sydney study2 proved what many knew to be true: GPs are working harder than they were 10 years ago. They are having longer, more complicated consultations with patients; they manage more problems; and they are treating more conditions than ever before.

Dr Bartone says, ‘The workload of seeing your patients is enormous, this includes the paperwork and the load from senior patients. I spend significantly longer now with each patient, and treat more conditions with each patient. You’ve got to balance that with work life pressures and non-consulting issues. It all becomes a fairly large juggling act.’

The modern challenges of primary care include the rise of Dr Google. Most patients will have googled their symptoms prior to seeing a GP. Google claims that one in twenty searches are conducted to obtain health related information. And it’s not always wrong. A recent BMJ study3 found that out of 26 medical cases, Google was correctly able to diagnose 15 cases.

It is a tool that cannot be ignored, and it leads to the question – how do new and changing technologies such as Google, with its access to a wealth of the latest information globally affect the GPs’ confidence in their ability to correctly diagnose and treat patients?

However, despite the many challenges now facing GPs, they remain the most productive and cost effective branch of the Australian health system. Their expertise and efforts in both primary care and preventive health ultimately reduce demands on the very expensive tertiary care system. GPs have repeatedly proven theirworth in spite of the severe lack of funding in their sector.

So how can GPs best be supported in the current environment especially in their quest to keep up to date with the latest advances in medical science?

Continuing medical education is of course a prerequisite for medical registration. But what format is the most effective? Which programs deliver the best value in terms of skills learned for time invested?

Studies show that GPs overwhelmingly (at a rate of 95%4) prefer learning in a group, and 83% prefer face-to-face lecture-based formats. These forms of learning appear to be the most engaging to GPs.

In addition, the education is only meaningful when the acquired knowledge actually offers an opportunity for changes in practice5. That is, the knowledge gained has to be both relevant and practical.

Like many GPs, Dr Bartone prefers the lecture style of education: ‘I like listening to people. I like hearing the spoken word and seeing a presentation.

There’s a strong place for the visual presentation, that can be online as opposed to face to face, but I do like that direct approach and being in the present when you’re doing it – no distractions.’

Medcast is one of Australia’s up-and-coming educationproviders for medical professionals and they have teamed up with top UK medical educators, NB Medical. This new partnership offers GPs a rare opportunity to access high level medical education in Australia.

Their face-to-face ‘Hot Topics’ courses are lecture style sessions that update participants on the latest evidence based approaches. The courses have been tailored for the Australian setting and are designed to offer condensed or ‘chunked’ bursts of information that can be more easily incorporated into a GP’s tight working schedule. The courses are CPD accredited with both RACGP and ACRRM.

‘Hot Topics’ doesn’t waste time with unrealistic specialist guidelines that are irrelevant to GP clinical practice. Their courses build on GP knowledge by providing the newest information on the most common conditions faced in primary care. Examples of topics covered include managing multimorbidity in the elderly, early detection of sepsis, diagnosing IBS, the role of faecal calprotectin testing, and the clinical relevance of thrombocytosis. These are just some of the issues explored in the ‘Hot Topics’ series.

The NB Medical ‘Hot Topics’ series already has an excellent reputation in the UK with GP testimonials praising the program as a clear, structured and useful learning experience.

Medcast and NB Medical have risen to the challenge of providing high quality continuing medical education directly relevant to GP practice.

They offer GPs the opportunity to ensure they continue to deliver the highest standard of clinical care in the face of the ever-changing landscape of medical knowledge.

And while, in medicine, there will probably always be that sense that there is ‘too much to know’, ‘Hot Topics’ will help keep Australian GPs up-to-date on what is worth knowing in order to stay ahead of the game as a primary care professional.

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Jim Duggan
Jim Duggan
9 months 13 days ago

With the increased need for medical education for Health Care Professionals, what role can the pharmaceutical industry play to assist the medical fraternity?