Observations Reality Check

Has novelty in healthcare gone a little stale?

BMJ 2012; 344 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.e4229 (Published 19 June 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;344:e4229
  1. Ray Moynihan, author, journalist, and senior research fellow, Bond University, Australia
  1. raymoynihan{at}bond.edu.au

Reflections on the tyranny of the new in matters medical

As a long time medical journalist, I live under an axiomatic imperative to write about what’s new: the latest research, a promising new technology, the next big disease. At the same time, healthcare providers strive to keep up with the best of what’s novel, ploughing through freshly minted systematic reviews during their lunch break or taking some sponsored education in more salubrious surrounds. More broadly, the public’s appetite for news, particularly of the medical variety, seems boundless. Increasingly, though, I’m wondering, maybe heretically, about the health of our obsession with what’s new in healthcare.

Although drugs are essential, the roar of their marketing distorts decision making in favour of the newest and most expensive pills at the expense of older ones or of non-drug approaches. New diagnostic technologies offer undreamt of opportunities to detect ever earlier signs of illness, but they have also brought the increasingly recognised risk of overdiagnosis. Much has been written about how promotion can drive inappropriate use of valuable technologies, but does our deep love affair with novelty deserve more scrutiny?

My old …

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