The life and times of a rural doctor - more out-of-hours care, more surgical work

Rural doctors provide more out-of-hours and obstetric care and do more minor surgery than their city counterparts, according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare/University of Sydneys latest report on general practice.

Almost half the doctors in rural areas said their practice provides all its own after-hours care. Only 1 in 5 metropolitan GPs provided this kind of service.

Rural doctors are more likely to provide services not covered by Medicare or any other funding programs. They also deal with more sunspots and skin cancers, manage more pregnancies, excise more lesions and treat more fractures.

The report, Its different in the bush, presents differences between rural and metropolitan general practice based on information from over 200,000 doctor-patient encounters drawn from a random sample of 2,014 doctors.

Director of the AIHWs General Practice Statistics and Classification Unit, Professor Helena Britt, said that there were differences between rural and metropolitan practice, particularly in small rural and remote areas - but fewer than there were a decade ago.

Rural GPs are now younger than their metropolitan counterparts whereas 10 years ago they were older. It looks like incentives to encourage new graduates to rural areas are having an effect, Professor Britt said.

Rural doctors are still more likely to be men - 1 in 4 GPs in rural areas are female compared with 1 in 3 in city areas - but in the last 10 years there has been a significant rise in the number of female GPs working in rural areas.

Better access to female doctors in the bush has made a big difference; 10 years ago, fewer rural women were seeing their local doctor for their gynaecological care. There now appears to be equal access for this kind of problem.

Its different in the bush also shows that patients in rural areas are more often overweight or obese, and men living in large rural centres have higher rates of drinking hazardous levels of alcohol. Depression was more commonly managed in large rural centres.

Rural GPs are in an ideal position to intervene - and have a real impact on the health of their population, Professor Britt said.

5 March 2001

Further information: A/Professor Helena Britt (lead author) tel. 02 9845 8150 or 0411 197 938 (mobile)

Media inquiries: Michelle Wells, AIHW, tel. 02 6244 1012, 0407 012 520 (mobile) or 0407 483 411 (mobile).

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