GPs provide longer consultations and prescribe less

There has been a significant increase in the proportion of encounters charged by GPs as long consultations over the past five years, according to a new report released today by the University of Sydney and the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

General Practice Activity in Australia 2002-03 shows that just over 9% of GP consultations were charged as long encounters in 2002-03, compared with 7% in 1998-99.

GPs provided fewer indirect consultations, that is, providing services to their patients without physically seeing them, than five years ago. Patients were also significantly more likely to report coming to the GP to get their test results.

Director of the AIHW's General Practice Statistics and Classification Unit at the University of Sydney, Professor Helena Britt, said that 'together these findings suggest that patients are being asked to return to their GP rather than get telephone reports of the results of investigations and tests'.

'This tendency may reflect increasing economic pressures on general practice, since phone contacts cannot be claimed through Medicare. Another reason may be the introduction of the revised policy guidelines regarding ensuring information is given to the right person.'

The report showed that the trend for less prescribed medications continued in 2002-03. GPs provided nine fewer prescribed medications at every 100 patient encounters, which means that they wrote about 9 million fewer prescriptions last year across the country than they did five years ago.

'Considering the wide international concern about the levels of use of antibiotics, it was good to see that this decrease was particularly apparent in the prescribing of antibiotics for upper respiratory tract infections', said Professor Britt. 'However, this was due to a decrease in prescribing of cephalosporins, with no change in prescribing of broad spectrum penicillins.

'The overall management rate of upper respiratory tract infections has not changed since 1998-99, which suggests that public education programs (a cold lasts 14 days with or without antibiotics) have had little impact on attendance rates for this problem.'

Other findings include:

  • About one-third of all children aged 2 to 17 who went to see a GP were considered overweight or obese. Being overweight or obese was most likely in the 9-12 age group.
  • Data about the current smoking status of people seen by GPs showed a significant drop in daily smoking prevalence over the past two years, from 19.2% to 17.2%.
  • Findings from GP encounters with Indigenous people demonstrate very high management rates of diabetes, asthma, acute bronchitis, otitis media, pregnancy, tonsillitis and boil/carbuncle.

General Practice Activity in Australia 2002-03 is part of the BEACH (Bettering the Evaluation and Care of Health) program, a continuous national study of general practice activity. Since the study began in 1998 it has built a database of more than half a million GP-patient encounters.

3 December 2003

Further information: A/Prof Helena Britt, tel. (02) 9845 8150 or 0411 197 938
Media copies of the report: Publications Officer, AIHW tel. (02) 6244 1032, or Media Office, University of Sydney, 02 9351 2261