Longer visits, fewer scripts and more advice about weight

GPs are spending more time with their patients, writing fewer prescriptions, ordering more tests, doing more procedures and dispensing more advice about weight and nutrition, according to a new report released by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) and the University of Sydney.

Director of the AIHW's General Practice Statistics and Classification Centre at the University of Sydney, Professor Helena Britt, said 'The survey provides unique insights into what happens inside the over 90 million visits to general practitioners in Australian each year, and highlights risk factors that will influence the future course of Australians' health.'

The report, General Practice Activity in Australia 2004-05, shows an increase from 7.0% in 1998 to 9.9% in 2004-05 for long consultation visits as a proportion of all visits.

'We estimate there were about 2.2 million more long consultations in 2004-05 than in 1998, which could be due to a combination of factors such as older people taking up a greater proportion of the GPs' workload and an increase in the rate of chronic disease management.

'Both these changes may reflect altered attendance patterns by the Australian population,' Professor Britt said.

There were about 1.1 million more encounters with elderly patients (75 years and over), about 1.8 million more with the 'baby boomers' (45-64 years) and 4.5 million fewer with children than in 1998.

During the same period, the rate of chronic problems managed significantly increased from 46.5 to 50.8 per 100 encounters, so that in 2004-05 GPs managed chronic problems on about 1.1 million more occasions than in 1998. Diabetes, high cholesterol, osteoarthritis and reflux problems were the more common chronic conditions explaining the increase.

The report also revealed that GPs are prescribing medications less often, with the rate falling from 94 per 100 encounters in 1998 to 83 per 100 in 2004-05.

'This means there were about 15.6 million fewer prescriptions written by GPs in 2004-05 than in 1998,' Professor Britt said.

At the same time, GPs are more often giving their patients education or counselling about their weight and nutrition; providing that type of advice at about 1.5 million more consultations in 2004-05 than in 1998.

Both procedures and tests are happening with more frequency. GPs are ordering pathology tests more often and, when they do order, they are ordering more tests at once. In 2004-05, GPs ordered pathology at 1.5 million more consultations and ordered 5.6 million more tests than in 2000-01.


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