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Family doctors: invaluable to health

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As the new Chair of the AMA Council of General Practice, I am honoured to follow on from my predecessor, Dr Brian Morton, and wish to acknowledge him for his six years of leadership and service to the Council and to general practitioners.

It is certain that as a profession we will have some interesting times ahead of us as the dust from the Federal Election settles. If there is one thing we know for sure from the last few weeks, it is that putting health on the backburner is risky business. The Government must be in no doubt now that health is a priority, and that it will have to do more than it has to date to ensure vulnerable patients do not have to worry about whether or not they can afford to see their GP when required, and to have pathology and radiology investigations when requested.

Next week we will be celebrating general practice and the primary role played by Australia’s GPs, our family doctors, as frontline and holistic health care providers. Throughout Family Doctor Week (24-30 July), the AMA will be highlighting how invaluable the family doctor is to patient health, and to the health system more broadly.

We know from international comparisons that countries with a strong GP-led primary care system have lower rates of ill health, better access to care, reduced rates of hospital admissions, fewer referrals to other specialists, less use of emergency services, and better detection of adverse effects of medication.

The comprehensive care provided by our nation’s family doctors needs to be seen by Government as an investment rather than as an expense. With only 6 per cent of Australia’s total health expenditure on general practice, our family doctors have proven the value of their care. Ending the freeze on Medicare rebates, raising the rebates and lifting rates of indexation to cover the true costs of care must be at the top of the Government’s to-do list.

For most patients, our general practices are their medical home. If appropriately funded, rather than struggling for viability, we know we can do more to help our patients live the healthiest life they can. We can do this though appropriate health screening and life-stage assessments, through structured care that is patient-centred and planned, through greater use of innovative technology that not only empowers patients in managing their conditions, but enables us to monitor their progress, through better use of medicines, and through care that is streamlined and coordinated within our multidisciplinary health care team.

Family Doctor Week will highlight that, properly funded, the medical home has the potential to both improve the care patients receive, and to save on more costly downstream health costs.

Supporting general practices to bring non-dispensing pharmacists into the health care team is but one way Government can invest to deliver better patient outcomes and minimise avoidable hospital admissions. The AMA’s Pharmacist in General Practice Program would deliver $1.56 in savings for every $1 invested by ensuring the quality use of medicines, medication optimisation and increased medication compliance, reducing adverse drug events and hospitalisations as a result.

In rural and remote areas, Government needs to assist general practices with appropriately designed and implemented infrastructure grants to expand their facilities to better meet the complex health needs of people in these communities.

You can support us in supporting you by visiting the website family-doctor-week-2016 and downloading and displaying the poster and your Family Doctor Logo, and by using #amafdw16 if tweeting or sharing FDW content on social media.

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