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10-06-2012 | Article

Doctors feel the pressure

Doctors have for some time been considered a critical element of any healthcare professional team. However, in this modern and technologically driven society where everything is questioned, is there still a central role for them in delivering effective healthcare? Doctors are expensive to train and maintain, a fact that comes into sharper focus as healthcare budgets become tight and costs are examined in increasing detail.

This was brought home to me by a fascinating article published in The Economist with the heading "Squeezing out the doctor" (click here). The detailed feature stated that "doctors look set to become much less central to health care".

The reasons are complex, with rising global healthcare demands and not enough doctors to match that trend. The gap could be closed with improved use of technology, more efficient use of physician assistants and greater concentration of doctors on the complex tasks that require their specific skills. It seems simple but politics (including powerful doctor interest groups) and barriers to innovation can stand in the way of progress.

Should we feel threatened? I think the simple answer is no. The world, including both developing and developed countries, will still need doctors and even though we will need to adapt, any radical changes to the healthcare system must be based on outcomes evidence and so part of a long-term project.

Nevertheless, as mentioned in the univadis GP News service, GP practices in England are soon to be assessed on the NHS Choices website by a scoring system based on data sources (click here). Of course, we should have nothing to hide and the public have a right to know about GP performance. However, as with school league tables, the impact lies in the interpretation of the data. Doctors and their associated costs and performance will be constantly analysed in microscopic detail in the near and distant future. This is something we will have to get used to - we need to be prepared to change and move with the times. I believe (and hope!) we are up to that challenge.

Best wishes,


Dr Harry Brown, editor-in-chief Univadis

By Dr Harry Brown