Australians encouraged to register with a GP under new funding model

The federal government is preparing to shake up how Australians visit the GP, with a plan to get patients to register with a single medical practice.

Under the voluntary patient registration scheme to launch in July, doctors could get incentive payments to improve patients’ health, in addition to Medicare rebates, with telehealth restricted to those who sign up.

RACGP Predient Karen Price says patient registration could improve access to GPs.Credit:Simon Schluter

Walking groups and cooking classes in doctors’ surgeries for overweight patients are some of the initiatives being explored under a mixed funding model for registered patients, Royal Australian College of General Practitioners President Karen Price said.

“Particularly for people with chronic health conditions it makes sense because we can then coordinate their care plans,” Dr Price said.

GPs could get block funding for specific patient cohorts, such as those with diabetes or obesity, if they improve outcomes.

Dr Price said care should be taken to ensure this did not result in clinical care being driven by data.

“What happens in Broken Hill is different from what happens in Rose Bay or Toorak; there will be different quality indicators,” Dr Price said.

Australian Medical Association Vice President Chris Moy said the current model of general practice was no longer “fit for purpose” as the nation’s population aged. Tech-savvy younger patients also wanted “more flexibility in how care is provided”, he said.

“We’re hoping that this is the beginning of an evolution of general practice,” Dr Moy said.

Patients who register with a medical practice would receive coordinated care from allied health practitioners such as nurses, pharmacists, dieticians, physiotherapists working closely alongside their regular GP.

Dr Moy said the approach aimed to “bring back a bit of the past” when patients built up a relationship of trust with a single doctor who cared for them over their lifetime.

He said restricting phone and video consultations to registered patients made sense as “we want telehealth to be used optimally”.

“The doctor should know your history,” Dr Moy said.

“If you just rely on telehealth, you get suboptimal care – you can’t do a pap smear over the phone.”

Dr Price said the scheme, if properly funded, would help ease pressure on the hospital system and make it easier to get a GP appointment without paying a gap fee.

The proposed changes are in the government’s draft 10-year primary health plan, which is out for consultation and promises “integrated, person-centred care” through a mixed funding model and better coordination of treatment.

Patients would need to have visited a GP practice three times within the past two years to register and once every two years to maintain their registration.

Doctors are calling for federal government funding for the scheme in the mid-year economic and fiscal outlook next month, saying the new model will only work if there is a significant investment of extra cash.

“We’ve heard loud and clear from our members that general practice is on its knees and it is not sustainable,” Dr Price said.

“We are in danger of running out of GPs, only 15.2 per cent of young medical graduates are choosing general practice.”

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