The doctor is NOT IN

Queenscliff pier. Photo taken by the author just before eating fish and chips.

Queenscliff pier.
Photo taken by the author just before eating fish and chips.

I love being a doctor. I love the variety, the capacity to touch lives. But most of all, I love the holidays.

The very best bit of my job is not doing it, and instead doing the crossword on the beach.

I won’t name my favourite holiday town for fear of spoiling it: quite frankly, I don’t need you there. Instead, I’ll code it anagrammatically.

Your presence would be superfluous, because sQueencliff already overflows with relaxed doctors: many so relaxed they’ve retired or died. I know these things because for six years I was these retired doctors’ doctor, and I also lived opposite the cemetery. Probably should have split that sentence into its two unrelated halves, actually.

It’s more fun being a relaxed doctor than looking after one. Whenever I holiday in a small town I always envy the local GPs, but of course in my imagination I’m sandy footed and solving cryptic crosswords between appointments.

“Do your urine sample at the surf club just past that jetty, Mr Jones, while I complete 6-down: ‘sQueencliff, idyllic village’. No rush.”
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Bowel charts – the work of the devil

blood sugar chart filledBowel charts are a thing of the devil. I hate even mentioning them. In fact, I won’t; let’s talk about blood glucose diaries instead.


A bunch of folk just like me, but sweeter, fill in a smattering of glucose columns whenever they can, missing a few days while getting on with their lives. They never bingo all eight sugar boxes on the one day, because they are normal, fallible human beings. They diarise to please their diabetic educator, who secretly knows that the patient eventually learns to write fiction and will merely go through the motions. Which brings us straight back to bowel charts.

Bristol stool chart 1Examining the motions is acceptable only in very isolated social groups: mainly microbiologists or dung beetles. Even then, it’s only ever someone else’s sh**. Describing your own waste products in any more than vague terms is, as I say, diabolical.

I have a middle-aged patient—let’s call her Julie: the name and gender have been changed to protect his identity. Actually, his real name is Julian. Julian is a hypochondriac with a comprehensive approach to health—all known diseases are divided into those he has had already and those still to come. Although he is essentially a good person, Julian owns a bowel chart. Unsatisfied with the date and time column, he devotes two thirds of his page to description. And, unlike my diabetics, this white space is never left unsullied.  Continue reading

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Irritating my whole profession

Gandhi looking for salt

Gandhi looking for salt

Recently I have found myself becoming more pugilistic and less pusillanimous.

Or, to use fewer ‘pu’ words, more disputative and less tentative. Simpler still – and with apologies to women and rats – more man and less mouse.

Not for me the Gandhian civil disobediences and passive salt marches of yesteryear.

No, never again will I walk the long route to buy condiments. Gandhi’s passivity ruined a good pair of sandals, when he could have bought the salt locally and yes, even forcefully.

My refusal to be pushed to the back of the queue in the supermarket spice section is just one minor example of my newfound capacity to stand up for myself. It also fits nicely with my new preferred descriptor, ‘seasoned warrior’.

It all began with a few letters to the editor in the online medical media. I padded up nonchalantly for replies, but soon found myself facing Mitchell Johnson on a dry Perth wicket. Continue reading

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My performance-enhanced brain

Brain-enhanced Scarlett

Brain-enhanced Scarlett

Most conference presentations wash over my spongiform brain and swish straight down the drain. But one presentation at last month’s Australasian Medical Writers Association conference (forgive the plug) stuck in my mind, almost as if something had sealed up my brain drain (perhaps another plug?)

It was UNSW psychologist Jason Mazanov discussing performance enhancement in sport. He began with a fascinating thought experiment: ‘Imagine there was a drug that improved your performance as a doctor by 20 percent. Would you take it?’

Well yes, obviously, especially if it involved a double-shot macchiato delivery system. Late on a Friday, 20 percent would be conservative.

But then Mazanov asked whether, if it resulted in the same improvement permanently, we would choose to have a brain operation. His point was we don’t baulk at enhancement per se, but draw a line when it comes to the method. And everyone’s line is different.

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Media coverage for ‘No Advertising Please’

NAP launch, 11 Oct, Adelaide Pic by Stuart Anderson

NAP launch, 11 Oct, Adelaide
Pic by Stuart Anderson


In the month since first appearing on the 7.30 Report, the No Advertising Please campaign has gained substantial media interest, reaching the shores of the US and UK. (Updates 6 Nov in red)

Below are links to all the TV, radio, print and video news I could find. I have included a couple of ‘double ups’ in major newspapers, but have otherwise ignored syndication and blog mentions. Some of the pharmaceutical media articles require log-in.


The NAP website. Web designer and webmaster David Townsend. Content: Justin Coleman and 24 other NAPsters.


ABC 7.30 Report, Tracy Bowden.


Radio National with Fran Kelly (minutes 26 – 32) Justin Coleman

4BC radio w Michael & Clare, Justin Coleman

 Radio Adelaide 101.5 fm w Angus Randall, Jon Jureidini

Justin Coleman was also interviewed on Sydney 702 ABC, Darwin 105.7 ABC, Sydney 2GB, Sydney 2UE

Jon Jureidini was interviewed on Adelaide 891 ABC


MJA Insight, Ray Moynihan. No to marketing.

BMJ, Amy Coopes. Australian campaign aims to stop visits from drug representatives. BMJ 2014;349:g6183, Justin Coleman. New campaign urges doctors to stop seeing drug reps.

Guardian, Melissa Davey. Australian doctors to ban drug company reps from visiting surgeries.

Sydney Morning Herald, Harriet Alexander. Rebel doctor group calls for ban on drug reps.

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No Advertising Please campaign

NAP logo

Tonight the ABC’s 7.30 report will feature an idea I dreamt up six months ago, called ‘No Advertising Please’.

Twenty five enthusiastic doctors and health advocates from around Australia have put together a campaign we are proud of.

As readers of this blog will know, I believe that patients’ interests are best served if doctors distance their clinical decisions from the influences of marketing and advertising. Medications are a vital tool for doctors, and pharmaceutical companies have every right to try to maximise their profits – clearly this will involve advertising.

However, doctors have a duty of care to their patients to ensure that their prescribing choice is based on the best available evidence, and on their knowledge of the particular patient circumstances. This choice should not be influenced by which pharmaceutical sales rep happens to have visited the doctor’s surgery in the past month.

The ‘No Advertising Please’ campaign asks doctors to consider the evidence – which we lay out in detail – that seeing drug reps does directly influence prescribing decisions, and that those decisions tend, on average, to be less appropriate as a result of marketing.

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Sick note

The delightful Aussie colloquialism ‘sickie’ can describe both the person who is sick, and the time taken off work to allow said sickness to flourish to its full potential.

Unfathomably, many employers still require a certificate even for one or two days out of the cell.

Diagnosing such brief, self-limiting illnesses relies entirely on the history anyway, so in effect the poor patient has waited 45 minutes tell you “I was unable to attend work from TUESDAY to WEDNESDAY due to a medical condition.”

This completes the only known consultation where the one sentence covers all four components—presenting complaint, history, diagnosis and management. I usually cut-and-paste x4, and hope Medicare doesn’t audit my notes.

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Prostate cancer: why screening PSA blood tests are dangerous

Released by NPS MedicineWise today, I host six short videos that discuss why doctors should think twice before ordering the blood test (PSA) that screens for prostate cancer.

It sounds like a simple, sensible thing for the GP to do – or for a bloke to request – but in fact, it can cause more harm than good.

How could PSA testing actually be dangerous? Watch and find out.

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Health consumers



To consume (v)

I have always thought negatively of the word consume. I blame the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), whose first two definitions are; destroy or expend and; spend wastefully. The OED knows both interpretations all too well – no edition of the world’s finest dictionary has ever made a profit in its 135 year history.

OED business manager memo to his 80 lexicographers:

Pls stop consuming (spending wastefully) my budget. U R consumed (destroyed & expended) by time-consuming word research. Simply look up all the words in a dictionary – duh!

The lexicographers, who have the lowest job transferability of any known profession, would be impeccably polite in their replies, concealing their vitriol behind scathing insertions of the word sic.

The negative connotations of consume don’t stop there. Even scrolling down to the ‘eat’ definition inspires visions of gluttony or its opposite extreme: that bland soup, consommé, watery enough to serve to homeopaths.

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The waiting game

Waiting...waiting By Baldiri

By Baldiri

Fifteen years ago I wrote an article about the waiting room at the Geelong Hospital Emergency Department, noting that a higher proportion of Geelong residents visited it than any other small room in that entire city. Back then it was pretty low-key: rows of bland plastic chairs, and even the pot plant looked unwell. Triage category four unless someone had thought to rehydrate it with a litre of fluid.

The room was designed for a single purpose, at which it excelled: waiting. More people died of boredom than infection, with the risk of MRSA overshadowed by that of hospital-acquired catatonia. Unless the four-hour rule has paid dividends, a couple of patients will probably still be waiting for me. I told them I’d see them after my break, but we took generously long lunches back in ’99. They call me Godot. Continue reading

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