Over a quarter of Australians see multiple GPs for their healthcare, according to new research published this month.
The study of 2400 adults, led by Sydney-based GP Dr Michael Wright, found that while 90% of people had a usual GP and 80% had a usual practice, around 25% also saw at least one other GP in the previous year.
Unlike in many other countries with subsidised public health systems, Australians are able to see multiple GPs at their own discretion. Although this may promote choice and competition, it also may also fragment the care patients receive, says Dr Wright.
“In Australia, a patient’s usual GP does not receive information about any ‘non-usual’ practice attendance, if the information is not volunteered by the patient,” he notes. “If important information is not shared between practices, patients could potentially experience worse health outcomes.”
The study found that younger people were most likely to hop between doctors, as were those living in big cities.
A significant finding was that those who had seen more than one GP in the previous year were 56% more likely to have also attended an emergency department. This suggests that those who see multiple GPs have different patterns of health service use and were possibly more likely to have poorer outcomes.
Dr Wright says fragmentation of care engendered by multiple doctor use could be improved if practices shared data with the patient’s usual GP, rather than leaving it up to the patient to volunteer the information.
“The rollout of My Health Record will improve the sharing of patient information,” he adds. “But My Health Record does not have access to the records at a general practice. So patients should still tell their usual GP if they have been to another practice so their GP is aware and their practice record can be updated.”
RACGP President Dr Bastian Seidel says the new research is concerning, as international evidence has found patients significantly benefit from having a usual GP.
“Patients who maintain strong relationships with a usual GP or practice team experience better health outcomes,” Dr Seidel says.
“These patients are significantly less likely to need expensive emergency department or hospital care. Every minute a GP spends with a patient allows them to obtain more information about their life, concerns, fears and expectations.”
You can read the full study here.