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Your Family Doctor: Invaluable to your health

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AMA Family Doctor Week, 24 – 30 July 2016

The AMA used this year’s Family Doctor Week to not only celebrate the hard work and dedication of Australia’s 30,000 GPs, but to put the re-elected Coalition Government on notice that changes in health care policy are urgently needed.

The traditional National Press Club address has been moved to August to allow for continued campaigning against the Medicare rebate freeze, cuts to public hospital funding, and cuts to bulk billing incentives for pathology and radiology.

Media outlets around the country, including the national WIN network of regional television stations, picked up on the message that GPs are the most cost-effective sector of the health system and need support.

AMA President, Dr Michael Gannon, said that the personalised care and preventive health advice provided by family doctors helps to keep people out of hospitals, and keep health costs down.

“Australian GPs provide the community with more than 137 million consultations, treat more than 11 million people with chronic disease, and dedicate more than 33 million hours tending to patients each year,” Dr Gannon said.

“Nearly 90 per cent of Australians have a regular GP, and enjoy better health because of that ongoing trusted relationship.”

The AMA used the week to outline a series of proposals for improving the health of Australians while also delivering savings to the Government.

The Pharmacist in General Practice Incentive Program (PGPIP) proposal would integrate non-dispensing pharmacists into GP-led primary care teams, allowing pharmacists to assist with medication management, provide patient education on their medications, and support GP prescribing with advice on medication interactions and newly available medications.

“Evidence shows that the AMA plan would reduce unnecessary hospitalisations from adverse drug events, improve prescribing and use of medicine, and governments would save more than $500 million,” Dr Gannon said.

“When the Government is looking to make significant savings to the Budget bottom line, the AMA’s proposal delivers value without compromising patient care or harming the health sector.”

Independent analysis from Deloitte Access Economics identified that the proposal would deliver $1.56 in savings for every dollar invested in it.

The AMA also stepped up the pressure for more appropriate funding for the Government’s trial of the Health Care Home model of care for patients with chronic disease.

In March, the Government committed $21 million to allow about 65,000 Australians to participate in initial two-year trials in up to 200 medical practices from 1 July 2017. However, the funding is not directed at services for patients.

“GPs are managing more chronic disease, but they are under substantial financial pressure due to the Medicare freeze and a range of other funding cuts,” Dr Gannon said.

“GPs cannot afford to deliver enhanced care to patients with no extra support. If the funding model is not right, GPs will not engage with the trial, and the model will struggle to succeed.”

With chronic conditions accounting for approximately 85 per cent of the total burden of disease in Australasia and 83 per cent of premature deaths in Australia, it was vital that Australians could turn to their family doctor for advice, Dr Gannon said.

“The Government uses concerns about the sustainability of the health system to justify funding cuts, but instead of making short-sighted and short-term savings, it should invest in preventing disease in the first place,” he said.

Family doctors in rural and regional communities, in particular, needed more support.

The AMA called on the Government to rethink its approach to prevocational training in general practice, and to revamp and expand its infrastructure grants program for rural and regional practices.

Maria Hawthorne