Thousands of people are going to hospitals for problems that can be managed by a GP. Photo: File
Doctors are urging people to find a regular GP who they can trust and call on after hours to help stem a rise in unnecessary and costly hospital visits for minor problems such as gastro.
With data showing close to 100,000 visits to Victorian hospital emergency departments each year are for low urgency illnesses and injuries, doctors say people need to be educated about the most suitable health services for their needs.
Dr Simon Judkins, an emergency physician and spokesman for the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine, said while GP-type presentations were usually quick to manage and did not necessarily clog up emergency departments, they should be addressed to make better use of finite health resources.
He said people may be viewing hospital emergency departments as “one-stop shops” because they provide free radiology and pathology if required. But he said this often happened after people waited for hours to be seen in a unit that is there for emergencies.
Recent research has shown that many parents are bypassing GPs in favour of emergency departments for low urgency conditions in their children, such as sprained ankles and mild asthma. And the Royal Children’s Hospital has been pleading with parents on its Facebook page to consider GPs and other alternatives for less urgent problems such as coughs and colds.
While consumers have growing options for healthcare, including home visiting GPs in metropolitan areas, Dr Judkins said there was probably a need for more after-hours GP services, particularly with radiology options on site.
He said people with regular GPs who kept their patient’s history and knew them well tended to receive more efficient care, with less duplication of tests and less hospital visits.
President of the Victorian branch of the Australian Medical Association and GP Lorraine Baker said it was concerning that people were bypassing GPs for hospitals during business hours for minor illnesses and that all GP clinics have links to after-hours services, including home- visiting options.
“GPs are very well equipped to decide if a child needs emergency department assessment and can facilitate it to save the patient waiting,” she said. “If we see a sick child, we ring the emergency department and send our assessment so the child doesn’t sit in the waiting room.”
Furthermore, Dr Baker said in her experience people did not get swifter and cheaper treatment in hospitals for non-emergency care.
“(People) can spend six hours there whereas if they had gone to the local general practice, they might have been given a referral for an X-ray … gone to the local X-ray centre and come back and had everything dealt with within two hours,” she said.
Dr Baker said if patients were worried about costs, there were many bulk-billing services and some private clinics would negotiate cost if need be.
Health policy expert and former secretary of the Australian department of health, Dr Stephen Duckett, said more GPs should do further training in paediatrics so clinics had at least one doctor with expertise in the area. This may improve parents’ trust in GPs to manage children’s illnesses and injuries, he said.