Australian Medical News Brief February 2018

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Welcome to Medshop Australia’s monthly series, News Brief, where we talk about what you may have missed. These are mostly articles we’ve posted on our social media news feeds. We consider them the most newsworthy events in Australian health and medicine from the last month. You will find links to the original articles. Let’s look back and review the top stories from February.  

Medical body admits it didn't have full backup plan for crashed doctor test

3307 As reported by The Guardian, hundreds of physician registrars were unable to complete their basic training exam this month due to a technical fault that kicked participants out of the online test and unable to complete the second half of the exam. The Royal Australasian College of Physicians has released a formal apology, citing that they did not have a complete backup plan in place. They also apologised that due to the nature of the fault it cannot accept results even from those who managed to finish the exam before the glitch. In previous years the exam had been conducted on paper, this was the first year the exam was delivered through an online test environment. The test was developed by computer-based test development company, Pearson Vue, which has experienced errors in the past. The backup plan consisted of running the test as a paper-based exam, however, no contingency date had been established. Administrators have been tasked with contacting the 1200 trainee doctors and rescheduling the date to the 2nd of March. While the exam can be re-set at no extra cost, the social and psychological costs to trainees and their families that have been incurred as a result of this error have been vast and significant.  

Karratha medical students ready for hands-on role

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As reported by The Western Australian, a new cohort of medical students has arrived in rural Western Australian city Karratha, located in the Pilbara region to commence their year-long placements. The students interviewed have expressed their excitement and enthusiasm for the challenges and rewarding learning experiences to come. Ms Schleicher, 23, originally from Geraldton, said she had opted for a year in the North West mainly to learn more about Aboriginal health.
“You get broader experience in everything, and I think the lifestyle is really good.” Another student, Mr Little expressed his enthusiasm for the offer of more intensive hands-on experience. “Sometimes you’ll be the only student here, so you’ll get a lot more hands-on experience and a lot more one-on-one teaching, whereas in a city, hospital doctors are flat out with their patients and then if they have a bit of time, they’ll teach you one or two things. Here, you can actually be the first point of contact, and you can do it all.”
Coordinator for the Rural Clinical School of Western Australia explains that the training program helps to place doctors in areas that often struggle to retain staff long term. For these reasons, rural training programs benefit both the communities involved and the doctors in training.  

Australian invention set to improve cancer treatment

Screen Shot 2018-02-28 at 6.52.07 AM As reported by Sydney Morning Herald, thanks to a new technology developed by an Australian medical start-up, Opus Medical. Breast cancer patients will have improved treatment outcomes and reduced side effects. The technology, called "Breathe Well" initially started out as a university research project. It teaches cancer patients to self-regulate their breathing to assist with the accurate targeting of tumours and sparing of healthy tissues during radiation treatment.
According to company co-founder Dr Sean Pollock, "Approximately one in ten left-sided breast cancer patients will experience cardiac radiation toxicity from their radiation therapy. Of these patients, 43 percent will require heart surgery due to their heart being unintentionally blasted with radiation."
To counter this problem, Breathe Well uses a motion sensor camera to detect breathing patterns and a visual interface to advise patients how to adjust their breathing in real time during radiation treatment to save their heart from radiation toxicity.  

Medical disasters: Operations on the wrong patients, instruments left inside bodies, and wrong blood types transfused

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As reported by News.com, a new productivity commission's report on government health services released this month, showed that between 2015-2016  there were 82 sentinel events recorded in Australian hospitals. Sentinel events consist of adverse events that are independent of a patients condition. Events included surgical procedures on the wrong patient and wrong body parts that caused serious harm and in 5 of the 82 cases, resulted in the patient's death or major permanent loss of function. In 26 of the cases instruments were left in patients bodies with each requiring a second operation to remove. 7 deaths were caused by the incorrect administration of drugs. On a positive note there were zero incidents of an infant being given to the wrong family, between 2013-2014 there were two instances of this.
“Australian health ministers have agreed on a national core set of sentinel events for which all public hospitals are required to provide data,” the report read.
This data helps to identify where issues are occurring and seek to prevent such occurrences.  

Four ways precision medicine is making a difference

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As reported by Healthcare IT, The future of precision medicine in Australia is looking very promising according to a report released by the Australian Council of Learned Academies. The cost of sequencing individual genomes has plummeted over the last 15 years, from more than $1 billion USD to just $1,000.00 USD and the cost continues to fall. The applications for such technology will revolutionise modern medicine as we know it including, diagnosing and preventing genetic disease, cancer diagnosis and treatment, analysing the suitability of medicines and documenting population health data. Australia is set to be a forerunner in the exciting field of precision medicine into the future.
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