General Practice: Health of the Nation 2018

 Mental health concerns continue to be the main reason for GP presentations, with 62% of patients seeking help for issues such as depression, mood disorders and anxiety. The next commonest concern is respiratory illness, which requires GP care for 45% of patients (these two combined categories total more than 100%, and much more when other issues are included, indicating the high level of patient co-morbidity).

The figures were reported in the RACGP’s General Practice Health of the Nation 2018 - An annual insight into the state of general practice, the College’s snapshot of why patients seek primary medical care and how GPs view their work and their profession more widely

Around 36,000 GPs practise across Australia, and there are more than 6300 accredited general practices. The main age group for GPs is 35-64 years (78%), and only 4% of GPs report that they expect to retire within the next two years. Two in three GPs consider themselves as having more than 10 years remaining in the workforce.

While more than 90% of GPs are satisfied or very satisfied with the variety in their work, mental health issues take up a considerable amount of consultation time and often require complex and lengthy management. This challenge was found to have slightly increased since the previous year.

“In addition to being the most common reason patients visit their GP, mental health was also identified as the health issue causing GPs the most concern for the future, followed by obesity,” the report noted.

GPs identified mental health and obesity as key areas the federal government should prioritise for action. They also want to see action on health system issues, including support for access to care through Medicare, health equity and equality, and social and cultural determinants of health.

Writing of “much-needed attention by our policy-makers and regulatory bodies to ensure our patients are not missing the opportunity to access high-quality healthcare” RACGP President-elect Dr Harry Nespolon added: “Despite general practice being the most accessed area of Australia’s health system, with more than two million appointments made every week, funding for patients to visit their GP makes up less than 9% of Australia’s annual health budget.”

GPs reported concern about patient access to care for groups at risk of poor health outcomes, such as patients in aged care or rural and remote areas.

Not surprisingly, it was found that Australians access general practice more than any other area of the health system, with some 87.8% of the population visiting their GP at least once each year. Patients reported visiting their GP more than they received prescriptions, had pathology or imaging tests, or saw non-GP specialists.