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Health Care Home success depends on GP goodwill

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General practice is the corner stone of primary care. I am sure you will all agree with this. General practice in Australia has an exemplary record compared with many other countries around the world. It is efficient and extremely low cost, especially compared with an uncomplicated ED presentation.

The public, and the public purse, is extremely well served by general practice. The cost of MBS expenditure on general practice is just 6 per cent of total Government spending on health. Fee for service (FFS) has been the predominant funding model of general practice over that time.

The Government’s Health Care Home (HCH) is a model of care for patients with chronic disease. It is also known as the Medical Home. Under the model, patients have a continuing relationship with a particular GP to coordinate the care delivered by all members of the patient’s care team.

Do we need it? Especially when we consider the exceptional current performance and achievements of GP in Australia?

The significant twin burdens of burgeoning chronic disease and advancing age presentations are challenging the economic resources for delivering primary care. In an environment where fiscal resources are tight, the FFS model’s ability to cope with the pressure on the public purse is under the microscope.

Superimpose this on years of cuts to GPs – years of continued underfunding and non-investment by successive governments in general practice has brought GPs to the brink.

BEACH data shows that GPs are managing more chronic disease than ever before. GPs are already under substantial financial pressure due to the Medicare freeze and a range of other funding cuts. The HCH model is certainly not a way for the Government to arrange funding to general practice in the current Medicare rebate freeze environment.

The Medical Home is fundamental to the concept of the family doctor who can provide holistic and longitudinal care and, in leading the multidisciplinary care team, safeguard the appropriateness and continuity of care.

All this is academic if the funding for HCH is not appropriate, and not simply at the expense of FFS. Which brings us to the trial (or as the Health Department wishes to view it, as phase one of the implementation).

In March, the Government committed $21 million to allow about 65,000 Australians to participate in an initial two-year trial involving up to 200 medical practices from 1 July 2017. This funding is not for services, just for the infrastructure required to support the trial, as well as its evaluation.

The Health Department is busily preparing for this implementation. There is a hive of activity as it seeks to implement this key part of the Government’s strategy for reform. The overarching implementation advisory group will liaise to ensure that best practice and appropriate strategies are followed in the trial. AMA is on both the implementation group and underpinning subgroups involved in the mechanics of selecting patients and the economics of payment mechanisms.

The next few months will see many announcements, including the identification of the Primary Health Network (PHN) regions and an invitation for expressions of interest from practices in those regions to be part of the trials. The success of this policy initative will also depend on developments and further progress on the MyHealth Record and the PHNs (not without their challenges also).

The Department rightly understands that the goodwill of GPs is crucial for the success of the trial.

That goodwill will evaporate significantly if there is not the appropriate funding. However, I have made it clear that with additional funding support, GPs can provide more preventive care services and greater management and coordination of care. More important still, they can keep patients healthier and out of hospital, saving unnecessary and more expensive presentations and hospital admissions down the track – a measure which will form a key part of the evaluation of the success of the trial.