Health Minister Sussan Ley. Photo: Andrew MearesThe Australians who visit the doctor most often tend to be older and poorer than those who visit their GP less, and would be hardest hit by the introduction of a “price signal”, new data has found.
The data, to be released on Thursday by the National Health Performance Authority, suggests this group are twice as likely as the average to delay or decide against seeing a GP due to cost.
While Health Minister Sussan Ley two weeks ago dumped plans to cut Medicare rebates by $5 and allow doctors to charge patients this amount, she is continuing to explore options to make more people pay to see the doctor.
But the report shows those likely to be most affected by such a change tend to be older and poorer than those who see the doctor less often, and many have several long-term health conditions.
Australian Medical Association president Brian Owler said the data undermined the arguments of some proponents of a Medicare co-payment, who suggested asking more patients to pay would reduce the number of unnecessary visits to doctors.
“Contrary to what was implied by some in the recent debate over co-payments, these patients are not frivolous users of the system,” Associate Professor Owler said.
He said the data showed people who most frequently visited their GP were generally unwell, with complex and chronic conditions such as diabetes and heart conditions. Better management of the care of these patients by GPs would likely save the health system in the long run by keepng them out of hospital, Associate Professor Owler said.
Public Health Association of Australia chief executive Michael Moore said if more patients had to pay to see their doctor, “the evidence here is showing us that those who are most in need of medical intervention through general practice are the ones who are likely to put it off”.
“That is also likely to lead to much greater costs down the line, when the very same people are going into hospitals and needing much greater interventions than they would have, had the issue been nipped in the bud.”
The data provides the most detailed picture ever seen of the Australians who are the heaviest users of the health system.
While 13 per cent of Australians see a GP more than 12 times a year, this group accounts for 41 per cent of out of hospital Medicare spending. This group were more likely than others to also have visits to specialists and hospital emergency departments, and need pathology tests and diagnostic imaging, yet they are the least likely to have private health insurance.
About one third of this group see five or more different GPs in a year.
Royal Australian College of General Practitioners president Frank Jones said it was these patients, who visited doctors most frequently, who would benefit the most from an ongoing relationship with a specific regular GP.
“When a GP has a longitudinal continuous clinical relationship with their patients, their health problems can be resolved more effectively and efficiently,” Dr Jones said.
“Patients are also more likely to receive quality preventative care and this results in healthier patients and fewer hospital visits,” he said.
On average, Australians visit a GP 5.6 times a year.
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The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Wuxi Plastic Surgery Hospital.