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Govt told: support GPs to make a difference

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The Federal Government could boost the quality of life for patients with chronic and complex conditions and save tens millions of dollars by better support for family doctors, according to the AMA.

In a major pitch for improvements in the way the nation cares for people – many of them elderly – suffering chronic and complex disease, the AMA has called on the Commonwealth to introduce arrangements that would allow GPs to spend more time with such patients and enable them to plan and coordinate care.

In his pre-election speech to the National Press Club on 17 July, AMA President Dr Steve Hambleton said there had been a dramatic increase in the number of older patients with chronic and complex conditions that GPs were being called upon to treat.

Dr Hambleton said many patients had significant co-morbidities, and general practitioners were increasingly managing people multiple conditions including hypertension, depression, diabetes, brain and heart attacks, arthritis, asthma and oesophageal disease.

He said such work had become a key part of general practice, comprising more than a third of all problems managed and, with better support from Government, GPs could make a real difference to rates of hospitalisation and the quality of life for those with chronic and complex conditions.

“Chronic disease must be well managed and coordinated to reduce its effect on patients’ health and wellbeing,” Dr Hambleton said. “Family doctors are highly trained general health specialists, and are in the best position to ensure patients with complex and chronic diseases get the care they need.”

There is an accumulation of evidence showing GP-coordinated care can deliver significant improvements.

Coordinated care trials in Queensland in 2008, for example, demonstrated that coordinated care reduced hospital admissions by up to 25 per cent, sliced 26 per cent off inpatient costs, helped lower rates of depression among patients, and improved their quality of life. The trial demonstrated that when all Medicare, prescription and hospitalisation expenses were included, the cost of providing care could be cut by 8 per cent.

Dr Hambleton urged the Government to apply the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Coordinated Veterans Care model to the broader community.

“It provides additional funding support to GPs to provide comprehensive planned and coordinated care to eligible veterans with the support of a practice or community nurse,” the AMA President said. “We need a broad coordinated care program to tackle chronic and complex disease based on this model.”