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A picture of the care provided by general practitioners in each state and territory of Australia is available for the first time, with the release today of a new report from the University of Sydney and the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.
General practice activity in the states and territories of Australia 1998-2003 is based on five years of data collected through the BEACH (Bettering the Evaluation and Care of Health) national data collection program from 5,021 GPs on more than 500,000 GP-patient encounters. The report presents information on GP and patient characteristics, reasons for patient visits, problems managed and management techniques used.
Director of the AIHW's General Practice Statistics and Classification Unit at the University of Sydney, Professor Helena Britt, said despite differences in the characteristics of GPs, patients and climates across Australia, the work of GPs around the country was remarkably consistent.
'However, we found some interesting variations between states. For example, people in New South Wales (NSW) attended a GP most often at 5.2 visits per year, though its population is not the oldest. People in the Northern Territory (NT) attended a GP on average 2.6 times per year, well below the national average of 4.9 visits.'
Problems most often managed by GPs were respiratory-related, at a rate of 22 per 100 encounters nationally - most frequently managed in the ACT and least often in Tasmania.
'Circulatory problems were also managed frequently across the country, but NSW and Victoria had the highest rate, with 18 per 100 encounters involving circulatory problems,' Professor Britt said.
'Psychological problems were managed more often in Victoria and endocrine problems, such as diabetes, more often in South Australia and Queensland.'
GPs in NSW prescribed more medications than average, at 95 per 100 encounters, compared with the national average of 89. In contrast, GPs in the ACT prescribed at only 79 per 100 visits.
Rates of referrals to specialists and allied health professionals were fairly consistent across Australia, while WA-based GPs ordered significantly more pathology tests than average and those in Queensland did more procedural work.
GPs in the ACT were more often female (50%), only 3% usually worked more than 10 sessions a week, and they were younger than average. Conversely, South Australia had the lowest proportion of females at 28% and the highest proportion working more than 10 sessions a week.
Half of the patients seen in Tasmania held a Commonwealth concession card, but only 24% of NT patients had a health card. Only 1% of Tasmanian patients were from a non-English speaking background, compared with 12% of patients seen in NSW.
5 October 2004
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