Preparing our medical frontline for the future

11/17/05

The medical workforce of the future will not be prepared for the challenges of tomorrow's disease burden unless drastic changes are made to introduce flexible work patterns and multidisciplinary teamwork, according to a health policy expert.

The Director of the Menzies Centre for Public Health Policy and Practice at ANU, Mr Robert Wells, told the International Workforce Conference tomorrow's doctors and nurses will be faced with patients who will be older, more likely to suffer from a chronic condition and informed by the Internet.

"It's going to be a much more complex health picture in the future and the workforce shortage is unlikely to improve considering the lower birth rate numbers since the 1970s - we're not likely to have enough doctors to replace the ones we have.

"There needs to be urgent change in models of training so our workforce is ready for the challenges. Training needs to enable better team working, multidisciplinary approaches to care and more emphasis on primary care training."

Workforce numbers continue to highlight the need for changes in training and working, Mr Wells said.

"We cannot continue to rely on turning out more health professionals to solve our workforce problems. A report on future workforce needs released last week calls for an increase in GP training places of several hundred. But where will the trainees be found when we are struggling to fill all the GP places we have now?"

He said young medical professionals will be exposed to a broader range of illnesses and disease and need to be prepared properly.

"Increasingly care of the sick is happening outside of hospitals, and hospitals are there to deal with the really acute cases. Training doctors solely in hospitals means there aren't as many training opportunities for them as there might be in general practice settings," he said.

Mr Wells said there was evidence that the best way forward was multidisciplinary team working, but the way medical training was conducted did not encourage or support teams.

"Doctors and nurses are trained separately, allied health workers and pharmacists are also separate bodies. So these groups go out into the workforce with little understanding of each other's skills and what they can offer each other. The Australian health workforce is characterised by strong professional demarcations. Surely this is not in the best interests of patient's care?"

The Productivity Commission workforce discussion paper was a reminder of Australia's future medical profession needs, he added.

"Here we have the first non-health sector analysis of the health workforce, and what is it telling us? We need more flexibility in the workforce and a workforce that's better prepared to work in teams. It's a message the profession should heed."

Source: Eurekalert & others

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