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Govt needs to relieve strain on health system’s heart

Govt needs to relieve strain on health system’s heart - Featured Image

The benefits of co-ordinated care are widely recognised, and worldwide work is progressing to develop and implement systems and models of care that facilitate and support it.

In Australia, improving the continuity of patient care through better co-ordination has been on the agenda for almost two decades. As a GP, it is frustrating when the role of GPs in the co-ordination of patient care is so often undervalued by Governments in their ongoing quest for cost savings.

Despite the Government’s rhetoric acknowledging general practice as being central to the health system and its desire to rebuild it, the indexation freeze and other attempts to cut rebates stand in stark contrast to this intent.

Every time general practice is undermined with a rebate cut, the loss of an incentive, or an indexation freeze, our capacity to provide a higher level of care is compromised.

We have care planning and team care arrangements that recognise the GP’s central role in co-ordinating services to support patients to better manage their chronic and complex conditions. However, these arrangements are limited, inconsistent with established referral practices, and encased in red tape. This impacts on their effective use.

More than $1 billion has been “invested” by the Federal Government in a shared electronic health record to help ensure continuity of care. Unfortunately, most of that investment could have been saved if greater stock had been put in the advice of clinicians and the medical profession. In particular, that it must be an opt-out system and that information uploaded to the shared health recorded needed to be clinically relevant.

In the past decade there have been multiple trials around co-ordinated and collaborative care. We’ve had the Co-ordinated Care Trials in Queensland, HealthPlus in South Australia, the recent Diabetes Care Project trial, and Victoria is currently running the Care Point trial.

To varying extents, these trials recognise the role of general practice. We must build on the lessons learned from them, bearing in mind the recent findings of a report on nurse-led, hospital-based co-ordinated care interventions that found no demonstrated effect. What this shows, I believe, is that the best place for care co-ordination is at the central point of health care, which is general practice.

Private health insurers appear to be slowly coming around to the view that if they want to stem the rise in hospital-based claims (and their resultant payouts), then they need to start looking at supporting primary health care. They need to recognise that general practice holds the key for them, and that the challenge is to develop a funding model that will enable them to support GPs in keeping their patients out of hospital.

As AMA President Professor Brian Owler said in his address to the National Press Club during this year’s Family Doctor Week, there needs to be urgent recognition of the costs of providing high quality care.

If private insurers can recognise that general practice is where they need to be investing, then it is time the Federal Government did so as well.

The current review into primary health care, led by former AMA President Dr Steve Hambleton, provides a vital chance to shift the focus of our health system back to its heart.