The ageing GP workforce and more female doctors are only small pieces of the puzzle causing the drop in services provided by GPs – they're also just not providing as many consultations, new research shows.
According to Mr Ian McRae, a PhD student at the Australian Centre for Economic Research on Health based at ANU, consultations provided by doctors dropped by eight per cent per GP over the period between 1996 and 2003.
In his study, Australian General Practice. Where have the GP services gone?, Mr McRae found that if GPs in 2003 were providing the same average level of services in 1996, there should have been an increase in services by 3.9 per cent, but "in fact, the number of services delivered has declined".
According to Mr McRae, in 1996-1997 Australian GPs provided about 103 million services to patients, compared to 2004-2005 when about 98 million services were provided to patients, a decrease of 6.6 per cent.
While GP services increased steadily from 1984-85 (when Medicare was introduced) to the mid-1990s, they were in decline from 1997 to 2003.
Previous estimates on workforce requirements for general practice have laid the blame for decreased services on an ageing and an increasingly 'feminised' workforce, but Mr McRae's said the fact was that GPs are now providing fewer services to the public.
"Even taking into consideration the fact doctors are getting older and are more likely to female, there should still have been an increase in services delivered between 1996 and 2003. GP's are simply not delivering the same numbers of consultations as previous generations," Mr McRae said.
"Neither feminisation or ageing have had the impact we expected, but that is not to say they should be discounted and will not impact in the future. But we have shown that these factors are only a small piece in the puzzle that has led to fewer general practice services for Australia."
Mr Ian McRae
Australian Centre for Economic Research on Health
+61 2 6125 5602
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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