Summary

Many Australians are fortunate to experience very good or excellent health and have few or no longterm health conditions. They might visit a GP once or twice a year or they may go the whole year without any visits. Overall, Australians see GPs 5.6 times per year on average.*  However, many other Australians need to see a GP more often than this.

Those patients who see a doctor much more than the average, as well as those who see many different doctors, are of considerable interest to health system managers and clinicians because in many cases these patients have the greatest need for effective and well-coordinated health care. Improvements targeted at these patients therefore have the potential to bring significant benefits in terms of patient outcomes and system efficiencies. However, until now there has been limited publicly available information about these types of patients, such as their age, geographic distribution and other characteristics.

This report aims to fill some of these gaps in knowledge by providing the most detailed picture to date of who are these ‘frequent GP attenders’ and which local areas have greater or lesser percentages of them. It breaks down the Australian population into groups according to how often they went to a GP in 2012–13, and how many different GPs and specialists they saw.

The results show how the two highest GP user groups compare to other attendance groups in terms of their age, socioeconomic and insurance status, the extent to which they have chronic or other health problems, and how many times they went to an emergency department or were admitted to hospital. The results also show how much money was contributed through Medicare towards GP, medical specialist and pathology and diagnostic imaging services for the two highest GP user groups in each local area.

Through the use of tables and maps, the report also shows which local areas have the highest and lowest percentages of very high and frequent ‘GP attenders’.

To derive the results, the Australian population was divided into six groups, based on the number of times people visited a GP in 2012–13 (referred to as a ‘GP attendance’). The groups are:

  • Very high GP attenders: 20 or more visits per year
  • Frequent GP attenders: 12–19 visits
  • Above average GP attenders: 6–11 visits
  • Occasional GP attenders: 4–5 visits
  • Low GP attenders: 1–3 visits
  • Did not attend: no visits.

Findings are presented for each of the local areas that are covered by the national network of Medicare Locals. In mid-2015, Medicare Locals were replaced by Primary Health Networks (PHNs). PHNs will have a critical role in increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of medical services for patients, particularly those at risk of poorer health outcomes.1

This report covers:

  • How often Australians visit a GP and how many they see
  • Expenditure on health services
  • Use of health and hospital services
  • Barriers to GP care
  • Age, wealth and health characteristics

* Average number of non-hospital GP attendances per person (including non-GP attenders). National Health Performance Authority analysis of Department of Health Medicare Statistics (via MedicareWiz), January 2015.

1. Australian Government Department of Health. Primary Health Networks [Internet]. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia; 2014 [cited 2015 Jan 30]. Available from: http://www.health.gov.au/internet/main/publishing.nsf/Content/primary_Health_Networks