Sydney Public Health School says chronic diseases taking up more of GPs’ time

GPs in Australia are working three hours less per week in direct clinical care; however they are dealing with more health problems per visit, research led by the University of Sydney shows.

Sydney Public Health School
Study public health at the University of Sydney

Patients with Type 2 diabetes now account for 8 percent of a GP’s workload, and they spend almost twice as much time with the GP,” lead author Associate Professor Helena Britt from the Sydney Public Health School said.

Two reports published recently provide data on the activities of Australian GPs and the care of their patients. “General practice activity in Australia 2012–13,” from the Family Medicine Research Centre, University of Sydney, features a report of GP management of diabetes.

A companion report “A decade of Australian general practice 2002-03 to 2012-13″ shows the changes over the last decade in our reasons for seeing a GP, and what happens during these visits.

The data comes from the Bettering the Evaluation and Care of Health (BEACH) program, which continuously collects information about clinical activities of GPs in Australia. Dr Helena Britt is director of the program.

“We are very lucky, Australia is one of the few countries in the world with regular reports of what’s happening now in general practice, and how things have changed over time,” the Sydney Public Health School professor said, adding that it allows them to measure the positive or negative impact of changes in health policy on the medical care provided and informs planning of future health care services in Australia.

In 2012-2013, Australians claimed 126.8 million GP services through Medicare. People with Type 2 diabetes visited a GP eight times a year on average, and their diabetes was managed at half of these visits.

“This is more than the average of 5.6 GP visits a year for the total population, and patients with diabetes have longer consultations than many others,” Associate Professor Britt said.

According to Sydney Public Health School Professor Britt, approximately 1.2 million people have diagnosed Type 2 diabetes, and 97 percent of them have at least one other chronic condition, while 40 per cent have five or more. High blood pressure, high cholesterol, hypertension, osteoarthritis, ischemic heart disease, and depression are the most common.

The study also shows that older patients are taking up an increasing proportion of GP services, and are giving more reasons for their visit than a decade ago.

“As the population ages, chronic diseases are accounting for an increasing proportion of GPs workload. Compared with ten years ago, there are now more visits for depression, diabetes, atrial fibrillation, and hypothyroidism,” Associate Professor Britt said.

Researchers also found that GPs made 7.6 million more referrals nationally in 2012 and 2013 than a decade ago, with about 3.7 million more to medical specialists, and 3.5 million more to allied health services.

“The increase in referrals to allied health suggests improved access to these services, probably because Medicare now subsidizes some patient visits to physiotherapists, psychologists and dieticians,” Associate Professor Britt said.

About Sydney Public Health School

The Sydney School of Public Health is a vibrant, multidisciplinary network of individuals and centres which combine to provide exceptional and internationally recognized education opportunities in the field of public health.

The public health program at the Sydney Public Health School focuses on the prevention of illness and the promotion of health, with practitioners playing a proactive rather than a reactive role, especially with regard to the coordination of relevant community resources. The program provides the opportunity to develop skills and acquire knowledge essential for the effective practice of public health, including the effective management of community health problems.

Program: Master of Public Health
Location: Sydney, New South Wales
Semester intake: March and July
Duration: 1 year
Application deadline: Application deadlines for the University of Sydney’s Master of Public Health are Jan. 31, 2014 for the March 2014 intake; and May 31, 2014 for the July 2014 intake.

Entry Requirements: A successful applicant for admission to the Master of Public Health program requires
  • a minimum four-year full time degree or equivalent qualification from the University of Sydney or an equivalent qualification; or
  • a shorter degree from the University of Sydney or an equivalent qualification, and non-degree professional qualifications and/or substantial relevant experience and/or other relevant qualifications.


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