Australia’s GPs believe that mental health is the number one emerging health concern, often related to co-existing chronic health conditions – but more is needed to keep Australians well.
This is one of the conclusions presented in the benchmark report General Practice: Health of the Nation 2017 which gives a unique overview of the general practice sector.
The report is based on various sources, including research commissioned by the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) and the MABEL (Medicine in Australia: Balancing Employment and Life) Survey.
Some of the key messages from the report:
- Mental health is today’s biggest health problem and will continue to be an issue in the future
- The GP is the most accessible health professional and should be utilised to keep Australia well
- Patient out-of-pocket expenses in general practice are increasing and present a barrier to patients accessing the required care
The bad news
GPs report that psychological issues such as depression, mood disorders and anxiety are the most common health issues they manage. Mental health was flagged by RACGP members as the health issue causing most concern for the future, followed by the often related problems of obesity and diabetes.
GPs believe that mental health and obesity are two key health policy issues the Federal Government should prioritise for action.
From the benchmark report: “This is a clear warning of both the current frequency and future potential impact of psychological ailments on individuals, the community and the broader health sector. It is also a stark reminder that the personal and financial health costs associated with obesity and diabetes are expected to escalate.”
However, the number one health policy issue flagged by GPs is the problem of the low patient Medicare rebates. GPs have indicated this requires immediate Federal Government action to make sure that access to high quality healthcare is maintained.
As the cost of providing high-quality health services and running general practices continues to rise, GPs are finding it more difficult to bulk bill patients. Between 2013-14 and 2016-17 the growth of the bilk billing rate has slowed down.
Patient out-of-pocket contributions continue to increase each year as Medicare rebates fall further behind the real cost of providing general practice services.
The good news
Most Australians can see their GP when they need to. Nearly all patients (99.3%) report that they are able to see a GP when they need to and most people are able to get an appointment for urgent medical care within four hours.
Australians access GPs more than any other part of the health system. They report that they visit their GP more than they receive prescriptions, have pathology or imaging tests, and see non-GP specialists.
Eighty-three per cent of patients report that they visit their GP multiple times a year, including 11% who report seeing their GP 12 times or more. The availability of GP services has further increased with extended opening hours.
GPs coordinate care within multidisciplinary teams and Australians report positive experiences with their GP.
More time with patients
The RACGP is arguing for Medicare changes that will incentivise doctors to spend more time with patients – by increasing the patient rebate for longer consultations.
RACGP President Dr Bastian Seidel said: “We believe when GPs are spending more time with their patients, that leads to less prescribing, less pathology, less referrals, enhanced continuity of care, and that would, of course, mean less hospital presentations as well.”
General practice accounts for less than 9% of total government recurrent expenditure. The RACGP, AMA and other groups believe this is inappropriate as more health benefits for Australians can be gained by investing in primary care.