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How healthy is your community?:

A new report on 'Healthy Communities' finds five-fold variations in the accessibility of GP care.
By Motherpedia
Date: March 08 2013
Editor Rating:

Where you live can have a significant impact on whether you see a general practitioner (GP) – and not just because of availability but also because of cost.

The proportion of people who reported avoiding seeing a GP due to cost varied from 3% to 15% across Australia according to a report on Healthy Communities from the National Health Performance Authority (NHPA). The proportion of people who felt they waited too long for a GP appointment ranged from 8% to 28%.

The report is the first of its kind that enables a comparison of experiences with accessing primary health care via a GP to be made, and it shows that where people live has a noticeable impact on

  • whether they will get care when they need it
  • the waiting time to get care
  • the affordability of getting care, and
  • the use of after hours care.

The data are based on the 61 Medicare Local areas but prior to their establishment in 2010, from the views of 27,000 Australians.

Metropolitan areas

*  The healthiest people in metropolitan Australia – as self-nominated – are from the Bayside area of Melbourne and Sydney’s North Shore and Northern Beaches (both 91%).

*  The patients most satisfied are in the eastern suburbs of Sydney with 96% saying their GP listened carefully to their concerns. The least satisfied are in the Macedon Ranges/north west Melbourne at 83%.

*  The longest waiting time experienced is in Canberra at 20%, while the shortest is central and eastern Perth at 8%.

*  Canberra people also have the highest cost barrier to seeing a GP at 15%. The lowest cost barrier is in south-west Melbourne at 3%.

*  People in the south-west of Sydney visit a GP more than anyone else nationally – an average number of 7.3 visits per person each year. Not surprisingly, the lowest is in Canberra at 4%.

*  Loyalty to a GPis quite high in all areas. The highest in metropolitan areas is Northern Sydney at 89%, while the lowest is Macedon Ranges/north-west Melbourne at 78%.

Regional and rural areas

*  The healthiest people in regional/rural Australia – again self-nominated – are located in the Frankston/Mornington Peninsula area, while the least healthy are in Darling Downs (Queensland), the Goulburn Valley (Victoria) and Tasmania (all 81%).

*  The most satisfied patients are in Southern NSW (95%) while the least satisfied are in the Northern Territory (excludes remote areas).

*  Waiting times in regional areas are generally much worse than in metropolitan areas with the worst being the New England region of NSW at 28% and the best being the Goldfields-Midwest region in WA and the Great South Coast region of Victoria at 10%.

*  Cost barriers are, on average, lower in regional areas than in metropolitan areas although both the highest and lowest are greater than metropolitan areas. The highest is in the Northern Territory at 16%, while the lowest is the Gippsland region at 4%.

*  People in the Nepean-Blue Mountains region visit a GP the most amongst their regional counterparts at 6.4 visits per person each year, while people in the Kimberley-Pilbara only make an average of 2.3 visits each year.

*  Loyalty to a GP is highest in the Wide Bay (Queensland) and Lower Murray (Victoria) regions at 95%, and four regions – Gippsland (Victoria), Hume (NSW), South West WA and Townsville-Mackay (Queensland) have the least preference for a particular GP (all 78%).

The NGPA CEO, Dr Diane Watson, said that future work by the Authority will look at the extent to which variation in the use of GP services aligns with patient needs.

“While the report shows that some people live in areas with higher rates of GP visits, we don’t yet know if this is appropriate given differences in needs for care, or simply reflects a rich supply of doctors.”

The further report will also look at patient experiences with, and use of, a wider range of primary health care services involving GPs as well as other primary health care clinicians.

A report by Motherpedia in December highlighted two online services to help patients locate GPs and other health care practitioners. The National Health Services Directory lists health care services around the country; while 1stavailable goes further enabling online appointments to be booked based on availability.

The full report is available here

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