Having the capacity as an Australian citizen to access an after hours general practitioner (GP) is seen as a major asset and a benefit to the community. The very notion that individuals can be treated as a patient at their home in their own comfortable setting offers an array of benefits for all parties.
From keeping hospitals and care facilities more open to emergency services to the sheer convenience of seeing a professional medical practitioner without having to travel, that is vitally important. This is particularly the scenario for individuals who are situated in a rural location whereby a medical service might be more than a few minutes travel.
However, it is important to note that there have been issues hampering the concept of the after hours GP that have made their way into the press over the past couple of years. As the studies from peer-reviewed bodies continues to occur behind the scenes to understand and identify the problems at hand, here we will discuss what stumbling blocks have emerged to date.
One report outlined that the annual cost to the Australian taxpayer for the after hours GP services has set them back $250 million. Whilst healthcare is a facet that will naturally incur a cost and a burden to a certain degree within a vibrant open and free capitalist market, there is still a need to manage this department to ensure that the consumer does not have to compensate a system that does not support itself financially speaking. There is a differentiation between what is classified as an “urgent” visit to cost a patient between $130 to $150 and a non-urgent visit in the vicinity of $36-$55, but there is doubt and speculation surrounding the quality of those services and the capacity for individuals to pay these amounts regularly moving forward.
Concerns have emerged about the qualifications of the after hours GP as they usually do not fit the same profile of those who patients would regularly visit during business hours. From trainees to non-vocationally registered practitioners, some reports have shed light on professionals who are not in a position to deliver the best quality care.
The Medicare rebate is a topic that comes into greater scrutiny when speaking about the after hours GP. There would be a $90 million increase billed to those under the Medicate Benefits Schedule between 2010 and 2015 since the introduction of after hours doctors coming into the fold. What makes this scenario more problematic is a breakdown between the rise of urgent-hour callouts compared against the level of standard GP services, a rate that has remained fairly standardised.
Drug Company Involvement
An important element that deserves further scrutiny when discussing the idea of the after hours GP is the involvement of drug companies. Should less experienced and qualified practitioners be out there in the community between 6pm and 8am dealing with medical matters that are deemed to be more pharmaceutical in nature, then there is the possibility for brands to take advantage. By seeing an after hours GP to manage nausea, migraine or a pain-related symptom, there could be the possibility for operators to be utilised to drive profits.
There are clearly some reservations about the topic of the after hours GP that should be discussed about by all parties. From the federal and state governments to health care services, the bodies that organise and manage doctor’s affairs to drug companies and anyone who stands to profit from this structure. Whatever stance is taken on this concept, there have been reports, case studies and anecdotal evidence that points to a problem occurring where a solution needs to be found.
In order to reach that point though, there needs to be an acknowledgement and acceptance of the issues hampering the after hours GP. Once we reach that point collectively, then steps can be taken to address the issue head-on.