Decade of change in general practice - older doctors older patients, bigger practices, fewer scripts

It's not only the patients in GP surgeries who are getting older, according to two new reports released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare and the Australian General Practice Statistics and Classification Centre, an AIHW collaborating unit located at the University of Sydney.

'Some of the most noticeable changes in general practice over the last decade include the decreasing proportion of younger GPs, a growing proportion of female GPs, a decline in the number of small practices, a decline in prescriptions and a steady increase in pathology testing,' Professor Helena Britt said.

General practice activity in Australia 1998-99 to 2007-08: 10 year data tables shows that in a decade the proportion of female GPs increased from 30% to almost 37%, GPs in solo practice halved and the proportion in smaller practices of 2-4 GPs also decreased considerably.

'The proportion of GPs who are aged 55 years and over increased from 25% to 34% - so about one third are now nearing retirement age,' Professor Britt said.

Likewise, older patients are taking up an increasing proportion of the GP workload. The proportion of consultations with patients 45 years and older increased from 48% to 55%.

The report also found that the overall rate of medications prescribed, recommended or supplied by GPs declined significantly, with almost 8 million fewer prescriptions written by in 2007-08 than a decade earlier.

'However, this is partly due to an increasing proportion of prescriptions for which five repeats are being given,' Professor Britt said.

The frequency of managing chronic problems rose over the ten year period covered in the report - most notably for conditions such as high blood pressure, depression, cholesterol problems, osteoarthritis and diabetes.

The increase equates to almost 9 million additional visits for chronic problems in 2007-08.

A 45% increase in pathology test orders in the last decade partly reflects the increasing management of chronic conditions.

'Many patients on medication for chronic diseases need to be monitored regularly,' she said.

General practice activity in Australia 2007-08 describes general practice activity based on a sample of 95,300 patient encounters with 953 randomly selected GPs.

General practice activity in Australia 1998-99 to 2007-08: 10 year data tables, highlights changes over the last 10 years in GP demand and workload.

Friday 3 October 2008

Further information: Professor Helena Britt, mob. 0411 197 938.

For media copies of the report: Publications Officer, AIHW, tel. 61 2 6244 1032.