Drop in GP consultations for asthma

General practitioners are seeing people less often for management of asthma problems according to a new report released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

General Practice Activity in Australia 2000-01 is based on an ongoing survey of 100,000 doctor-patient encounters from a random sample of 1000 GPs a year. It gives an insight into why people visit their GP, health problems managed, and types of treatments received. Trends in general practice activity over the last three years are covered for the first time in this year's report.

The report shows that GPs Australia-wide had 360,000 fewer consultations for asthma-related problems in 2000-01 than in either of the previous two years, and there was an accompanying drop in the overall rate of treatment with asthma inhalants.

Consultations for acute bronchitis also dropped, by about 280,000 consultations annually.
Director of the AIHW's General Practice Statistics and Classification Unit at the University of Sydney, Professor Helena Britt, said that because new presentations for asthma had remained steady, it appeared that patients were returning less frequently than before for ongoing asthma management.

'We can't tell whether this is due to a drop in prevalence of asthma or a drop in GP consultations resulting from better asthma control', Dr Britt said.

General Practice Activity in Australia 2000-01 shows significant increases in rates of treatment with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and lipid-lowering agents.

Dr Britt said that the increase in prescription of NSAIDs was almost entirely explained by an increase in prescriptions of drugs known as coxibs, usually for the treatment of arthritic pain. In many cases coxibs were prescribed for patients not currently on other NSAIDs, perhaps because of their possible side effects.

The increase in prescription of lipid-lowering agents (principally for control of blood cholesterol levels) parallels a significant rise in the rate of management of lipid disorders over the last 3 years.

'GPs are now managing lipid problems on an additional 400,000 occasions every year', Professor Britt said. 'This overall increase appears to be a combination of a steady number of new cases and a growing pool of patients continuing on long-term therapy.'

Other findings from the report include:

  • an increase of 2% over the last two years in the number of patients diagnosed as either obese or overweight.
  • no rise in the number of consultations for depression over the last three years after a marked rise between 1990 and 1998.


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