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While there was a sudden fall in General Practitioner prescribing of antibiotics for colds between 1998–99 and 2003-04, there has been no change since then, according to two reports released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare and the University of Sydney.

The reports, General practice activity in Australia 2009-10, and General practice activity in Australia 2000-01 to 2009–10: 10 year data tables, highlight GP activities and trends based on a continuous national study of general practice activity, each year involving random samples of 1,000 GPs who provide details about 100,000 patient encounters.

‘Over the past decade major efforts have been made by governments and professional organisations to discourage antibiotic prescribing for upper respiratory infections,’ said Professor Helena Britt of the AIHW’s Australian General Practice Statistics and Classification Centre at the University of Sydney.

‘This was because they are seen as generally ineffective against viral infections such as the common cold.’

‘Our study shows fewer people now are going to the GP when they have a cold; however, when they do go, they are just as likely to be prescribed antibiotics as they were in 2003–04.’

‘It could be that because people are going to the GP less often for colds, the colds GPs are seeing are more severe than those seen before 2004.’

In other findings from the two reports, chronic problems accounted for more than one-third of all problems managed by GPs in 2009–10, and in almost 40% of encounters with general practitioners, two or more problems were managed.

Hypertension, immunisations, check-ups, the common cold, arthritis, depression and diabetes were the most common problems managed.’

Medications were the most common treatment choice (69 per 100 problems managed). Most medications were prescribed (54 per 100), rather than supplied directly by the GP (9 per 100) or suggested for over-the-counter purchase (6 per 100).

Among other treatments provided, two-thirds were clinical treatments, including general advice, counselling about the problem, education about treatment, and psychological counselling.

For every 100 problems managed, 9 referrals were made. Two-thirds were to specialists, 29% to allied health services, and less than 5% to hospitals or emergency departments.

Over the last decade, the prevalence of obesity in adults visiting a GP has risen from 20% to 26%, while the prevalence of daily smoking fell from 19% to 15%. The prevalence of at-risk alcohol consumption in adults visiting a doctor remained stable at 26%.

Wednesday 8 December 2010

Further information: Professor Helena Britt, ph. 02 9845 8150, mob. 0411 197 938

For media copies of the report: Publications Officer 02 6244 1032

Full report: General practice activity in Australia 2009-10

Full report: General practice activity in Australia 2000-01 to 2009–10: 10 year data tables