(Transcript from World News Radio)
They’re calling for action to encourage more people to use GP services when they don’t need the specialist services provided at hospitals.
Santilla Chingaipe has more.
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Paul Mirrabelle is the chair of the National Home Doctor Service – an organisation that provides doctors to people’s homes outside normal GP working hours.
Mr Mirrabelle says the number of people presenting at emergency departments with minor illnesses is worrying.
“When it comes to the after hours time period, 6 o’clock in the evening and weekends, people often can’t access GPs and they’re actually unaware that there is another alternative available to them than showing up at a GP, and that’s to contact an after hours GP service.”
Dr Brian Morton, from the Australian Medical Association, questions that assessment.
He says there is still debate about how many people show up to emergency departments with minor illnesses compared with those with serious conditions.
“In some states, emergency departments have quite good statistics to show that it’s not the worried well* who are turning up at the emergency department. Indeed it’s appropriate place for care for their type of illness. But the problem is hospitals are costly structures. The question would be also whether people turning up with what they call ‘GP type’ illnesses would be putting others with more serious illnesses in a longer wait, in a longer queue for care. So we really need to have clearer evidence that emergency departments are the wrong places for incidental illness.”
Dr Morton says sometimes, people believe they’ll get better treatment if they go to an emergency department, rather than to a GP.
“Some of the problems relate to patient expectation. Sometimes it relates to cost as well. The issues are for people who perhaps are born overseas that their expectations is a hospital or given the treatment that they need. They also see that investigations such as x-rays and blood tests can be done in a hospital. But it’s not necessarily the best way for continuing care for the community.”
Paul Mirabelle from the National Home Doctor Service agrees there are assumptions that going to the hospital emergency department will be cheaper than going to a GP clinic.
But he says it’s the community that ends up paying.
“I think there is an assumption that if people are going to have a doctor show up show up to their home, it’s going to be inordinately expensive. There is a huge cost saving though to the healthcare system, it is significantly lower cost for the system in general for us to send a doctor up than it is for them to present at an emergency department.”
The AMA’s Brian Morton says migrants may be among the groups who are over-using emergency departments.
But he says this is simply because many migrants are not aware of how Australia’s healthcare system works.
“For many new Australians who are immigrants from all over the world, the usual practice may have well have been to visit a hospital for their care. They don’t necessarily understand that Australia’s health system relies heavily on general practice as being the cornerstone of primary care and the entry portal if you like to higher levels of care including hospital treatment and operations. So we need to make it more clear. Educate those newer immigrants that the GP is the person to see.”