GP patients show risky health behaviour

Australians are risking their health-excessive drinking, daily smoking, unhealthy weight, and insufficient exercise are common problems among patients who visit their local doctor.

These facts are among the findings of the AIHW General Practice Statistics and Classification Unit's latest report, Measures of Health and Health Care Delivery in General Practice in Australia, to be launched on Tuesday at the University of Sydney. It is the first time many of the topics covered have been studied in the general practice context.

The report describes aspects of patient self-reported health taken from samples of 100,000 patient encounters with GPs. It includes information about 17 main health issues, such as patient weight, cholesterol, vaccination status, mental health, physical activity, smoking and alcohol use. The report comes from the BEACH (Bettering the Evaluation And Care of Health) program-conducted by the University of Sydney in collaboration with the AIHW.

According to the report, about 51% of doctor-patient encounters were with overweight or obese patients; half the consultations were with patients who drank excessive levels of alcohol, and almost 1 in 2 were with adults who either smoked tobacco daily or were former smokers. More than two thirds of patients do insufficient exercise.

One in four patients rated their own health as 'fair' or 'poor' and these patients were more likely to have depression, anxiety and sleeping problems managed at the consultation than patients who rated their health as excellent.

Director of the University's General Practice Statistics and Classification Unit, Professor Helena Britt, said GPs were in a good position to provide education and support to their patients to help them change their risk behaviours.

'Contrary to popular perception that doctor consultations are all-too-brief, the average length of a doctor's consultation was 14.6 minutes. Three quarters of consultations took between 5 and 19 minutes, and only 2% were less than 5 minutes long.'

'However, at 1 in 5 consultations GPs felt they had not been able to provide the level of preventive care, lifestyle advice or help with psychological and social problems, in the time they had available.'

2 May 2000

Further information: A/Professor Helena Britt, tel. 02 9845 8150 or 04 1119 7938 (mobile).
For media copies of the report: Publications Officer, tel. 02 6244 1032, or Sara Crowe, Media Office, University of Sydney, tel. 02 9351 2261.

Note: The report will be launched by Professor David Siddle, Pro-Vice-chancellor (Research) at the Badham Room, Holme Building, University of Sydney (entry via Ross Street from Parramatta Road) on Tuesday 2 May at 10AM. A feature article is also available from the University of Sydney Media Office.