The Naked Doctor: profiling overdiagnosis and overtreatment

We’ve long been admirers of the Croakey blog, run by Melissa Sweet in Australia.

Now Croakey has a new project called The Naked Doctor. The site says:

Naked Doctor aims to encourage discussion and awareness of the opportunities to do more for health by doing less. It is a compilation of articles, books and other works that highlight overdiagnosis and overtreatment.

It is a project of Dr Justin Coleman, a GP who works in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health in Brisbane. He holds a Masters in Public Health, and is President of the Australasian Medical Writers Association.

In an initial post, he writes:

The modern doctor seems to have an intervention for every occasion. He or she wears a magician’s coat of surprises, each more incredible than the last. Hidden pockets contain pills, scalpels and lasers, with sophisticated medical tests providing the performance instructions.

At its finest, the medical method is impeccable; type I diabetes was a rapid death sentence prior to insulin and accurate blood sugar tests. Sometimes, though, the heavy clothing creates it own problems. Tests point to the wrong diagnosis, treatments cause harm and the promised magic fails.

Some failures are a consequence of bad luck and random variation. But the closer we study these problem areas—applying the scientific method—the more we find predictable patterns emerging. Many tests and interventions fail because they should never have been used in the first place.

The Naked Doctor probes the places in medicine that would be better stripped bare. Places where the correct option is to do nothing. The ‘doctor’s bag’ accompanying a home visit before the second world war contained no medication which would be considered of any use today, and quite a few dangerous poisons. The physician would have been of more use turning up empty handed—or, given the lack of latex gloves and infection control, perhaps not turning up at all. The modern example of cancer screening via whole-body CT scanning offers as much protection as the emperor’s new clothes, and the guileless emperor would be better off naked.

Naked Doctor’s old anatomy professor Norm Eisenberg used to claim ‘only half of the stuff we teach you in this medical course is true. The problem is, we don’t know which half!’

Luckily, various health professionals and journalists around the globe dedicate themselves to steadily peeling back the covers. Naked Doctor exposes their disrobing of over investigation and overtreatment. We invite you to watch, and to contribute.

In his initial list of articles on the topic, he cites one of our recent articles and asks, “could Gary himself be a closet Naked Doctor?”

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