The Australian Medical Association came out swinging yesterday in response to an article in The Medical Journal of Australia by Dr Tony Webber, a GP who until recently headed the Medicare watchdog, the Professional Services Review.

In his article Webber estimates that $2-3 billion dollars are wasted annually through misuse of the Medicare Benefits Schedule, Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme and the Medicare Safety Net. The AMA was wounded at the suggestion that doctors were rorting the system, suggesting Webber was attributing the actions of a few bad apples to the wider medical community, and the media up and ran with that line yesterday.

But as Croakey‘s Melissa Sweet points out today, there’s a very big difference between dismissing doctors’ rorts and taking a very serious long view at waste within our health system. And there’s plenty of that to go around. Consider cost shifting between the federal government and states, the use of unnecessary or inappropriate tests and treatments, onerous red tape and the waste that comes with complex, inflexible systems for starters.

All of which leads in very neatly to kicking off a new project in Croakey. The Naked Doctor, conceived and run by Dr Justin Coleman, is dedicated to examining over-diagnosis and over-treatment in our health system. In Dr Coleman’s words, the project “aims to encourage discussion and awareness of the opportunities to do more for health by doing less”.

It might be a novel way of thinking about how our health system functions, but doing nothing, or more specifically, focusing on preventative health, is a concept worth considering in the context of Webber’s paper — and far less easy to dismiss than a few “bad apples”.