Blessed with such wonderful weather, the Easter weekend was a great opportunity to clock up some time exercising in the great British outdoors; which is precisely what I had the fortune to be doing in that land known as God's own country, the Yorkshire Dales. However, with a few days away from the turmoil of the surgery, it was also an excellent time to catch up on some serious reading of an ever-growing backlog of medical journals.
Keeping up to date with medical developments is a task that doctors endeavour to perform on a regular and life-long basis. It is almost an impossible task, and we can only try to do some justice to the postbags of journals and medical newspapers that fall through our letterboxes on a weekly basis. However, most of us will select and concentrate on a few favourites and then scan the remainder for particularly eye-catching articles which the others may not have covered. For me, the British Medical Journal and the Journal of the
Royal College of General Practitioners are the main players, topped up with a couple of medical news magazines called GP and Pulse.
This particular weekend was of considerable interest, and I was able to update my knowledge of how vitamins pills may be bad for you by increasing the desire for fast foods (reported in the journal Psychological Science). I also took notice of various public health articles on the smog alert affecting Britain; found that the Archives of Disease in Childhood contained research linking excessively crying babies with the later development of behavioural problems; learned that the journal Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology was reporting on the link between the time children watch television and the development of heart disease and high blood pressure; discovered that the General Medical Council is considering holding misconduct hearings for GPs behind closed doors; and that peat moss was once used for dressings for battle wounds during the First World War. Further reading included an article on euthanasia, and how elderly people in Holland are now carrying cards to ensure that doctors do not over-enthusiastically end their lives. There were also papers with evidence that playing a musical instrument may help protect against Alzheimer's Disease (reported in the journal Neuropsychology); reports on how air pollution raises the risk of breast cancer (reported by the American Association for Cancer Research), and finally, that the Boston University Medical School had discovered that the 'older' types of contraceptive pill may be safer than newer versions.
All of the above made for fascinating reading. However, the truth is, none of the articles were actually from the journals I earlier reported reading on a regular basis. In fact, they were all to be found in the nation's daily newspapers. I cannot imagine for one moment that any GP actually receives half of the journals mentioned above, let alone gets to read them. So, despite our best of efforts, we cannot possibly keep on top of every single development in medical science; I am not even certain that retirement would allow sufficient time to do achieve such a herculean task.
One often hears the phrase 'if in doubt, consult your GP'. However, a gentle plea on behalf of all my GP colleagues: whilst we do our best to keep our knowledge fresh, the next time you come to the surgery to discuss an article in this week's news, please bear in mind that journalists will often trawl through esoteric science journals to find eye-catching headlines which the jobbing GP will never read at first hand. If we sit their nodding wisely and saying nothing, it is probably because we are totally bemused and wishing we had paid more attention to the weekend's newspapers.
First Published in the Scunthorpe Telegraph, Monday 2nd May 2011