When it comes to primary health care, understanding public perceptions, usage patterns and values is helping researchers make recommendations about how public health funding should be spent.
Richard De Abreu Lourenco
Centre for Health Economics Research and Evaluation (CHERE)
Australian Primary Health Care Research Institute (APHCRI)
What do you value when it comes to health care? If you’re like the majority of Australians, you see a GP who bulk bills for at least some services, you find it difficult to see your GP after hours, and you rate high quality service as the most important outcome of a doctor’s visit.
These findings are among the results of an in-depth survey of around 2500 Australians, which paints a picture of national attitudes towards primary health care.
Led by Professor Jane Hall, Professor Marion Haas and Richard De Abreu Lourenco from the Centre for Health Economics Research and Evaluation (CHERE), the survey looked at general practice and how health care consumers feel about the quality, accessibility, cost and structure of the GP services they access.
The research team is now using the outcomes to inform a number of projects that will help policymakers decide how and where to spend public health funding. They cover a wide range of issues, such as whether patients are substituting GP services for visits to hospital emergency departments — an issue that commands significant media attention as emergency room wait times grow.
“We’ve found that overall, people don’t rush off to emergency departments without considering it carefully. It’s not an off-the-cuff decision,” says Haas.
“Most people will want to go and see their general practitioner, and the fact that most can get an appointment relatively fast means, I think, that the propensity to rush off to the ED department willy-nilly isn’t really an issue.”
The survey is part of a broader program of research being undertaken as part of the UTS-led REFinE Centre for Research Excellence, which is funded by the Australian Primary Health Care Research Institute.
Other projects look at bulk billing, which remains a hot-button issue in the public health sphere. Given that 75 per cent of Australians attend a bulk billing GP, any changes to existing funding structures have the potential to impact a broad segment of the population.
“Those who are older, who are in poorer health and have lower incomes are going to be the ones who are more likely to use bulk billing, so we need to be aware of that when talking about changing how we fund GPs,” De Abreu Lourenco says.
“We’re also interested in the link between bulk billing and whether patients believe they had received quality care. There’s a bit of a myth in the Australian ethos that bulk billing equals low quality care, but this analysis found that there was no link between bulk billing and the quality of care as reported by patients.”
This research has also helped shape a series of preference surveys to gain a better understanding of how patients choose to access primary health care, which will be vital to the design of future services.
Photographer (Jane Hall): Damien Pleming
Photographer (Richard De Abreu Lourenco): Shane Lo
Photographer (Marion Haas): William Spiers, Infinity Photography