After years of the Medicare freeze, between the financial years starting in 2013 and finishing in 2018 the Department of Health’s quarterly and annual statistics have been compiled to see what the numbers seem to be suggesting.
Bulk Billing Statistics and Rural GP Vacancies
Connecting the wrong statistics can lead to misleading information as is currently debated.
While there have been indications GP bulk billing has increased by 4% up to 2018, it is not the main indicator for the claim of ‘decreasing out-of-pocket expenses for patients’ for example. Some of the statistics need more context to understand what picture they are painting. In this case, the % increase relates more to the number of Bulk-billed items being indexed and not the number of GP consultations fully bulk billed without an out-of-pocket expense.
Measurements of out-of-pocket expenses have also been tracked by the Department of Health’s statistics and those have actually increased by 28% for a GP consultation and by 40% for a Specialist for the same period up to 2018.
This is a complex issue to put in perspective. Because of the Medicare rebate freeze there has been a lack of proper indexation of Medicare items to reflect with the inflation affecting patients. Decisions for indexation as a result were benchmarked against the wage price index instead of the consumer price index.
For metropolitan areas, medical centres operating with a mix of billings for their services could combat this ongoing issue by obviously charging higher out-of-pocket expenses. But that is certainly not the only solution for the time being. Owners could implement strategies to reduce their practice costs, expand the amount of onsite services offered to patients and in some cases also merge and work together with other practices to keep the expenses competitive for patients.
For regional areas this becomes a lot tougher to manage. Telehealth has been increasingly helping remote communities with access to doctors but only the Specialist consultations are eligible for a Medicare rebate and currently limited for the GPs.
Access to more onsite doctors for these regional communities is even tougher. They have been relying on a combination of factors such as hospitals, Flying doctors, Telehealth, local doctors as well as locums. And while some of the Rural Workforce Agencies are anticipating more locally trained doctors by 2022, the ideal scenario for doctors to work in regional cities is still far from perfect.
There is a large portion of overseas-trained doctors working in regional towns for their training and visas. But the conditions for these doctors to settle in permanently and provide the kind of continuity of care that is preferred are still not favourable.
Common issues we hear when speaking to doctors are:
Remuneration and relocation packages attractive enough for a locally trained doctor to stay or for an overseas trained doctor to relocate
Sometimes a doctor is born and raised in a specific part of Australia and has emotional ties to living and working there. But a lot of times, the metropolitan cities lure doctors away with a different kind of lifestyle. This makes it tough to keep doctors working in regional areas after their training or for doctors from other areas to relocate and settle down.
Favourable city amenities and community connections for a doctor’s family to settle in
For a lot of experienced doctors, the decisions about where to live and work also impact their families. If the doctor is happy with the work at a regional medical centre, but the family is not happy with their personal life in that particular city, then it will be hard to keep this doctor for the long term.
Supportive practice staff that can help a doctor to settle in
The staff working at your medical centre also play a valuable role in helping a doctor feel welcome and properly supported. For as many stories as we have heard of doctors clashing with onsite staff and wanting to leave, we have also heard as many stories of doctors absolutely loving their working environments and with no future plans of leaving to work somewhere else.
Network of doctors in the city or nearby that will allow for holiday and fatigue breaks
Having a hospital nearby, ties to the Flying Doctors service, or simply other doctors and nurses in town in different specialty areas can immensely help a doctor who is considering whether to settle down permanently. If a doctor must be on call for 24 hours for more than a week at a time due to a lack of other specialists in town, then this will impact their fatigue as well as a general happiness. It is crucial doctors are well-rested and coming back to the previous point of their families, an occasional holiday would also be nice to have.
New DPA and MMM location restrictions
These are the new changes to workforce shortage areas which were previously called DWS. The locations overseas-trained doctors with restrictions can work have changed around the metropolitan areas of Australia with the aim of encouraging more regional work.
Most likely if more overseas trained doctors joined and more local doctors were trained, there would still be challenges for fully accessible and affordable healthcare to all Australians including very remote areas. There are combining factors that need to collectively create favourable conditions for doctors to pursue their careers in suitable ways, both in regional and metropolitan areas.
Gorilla Jobs can put you in touch with a large network of Bulk, Mixed and Private Billing centres looking for qualified GPs. We can also assist you in specific areas such as Skin Cancer Medicine, Occupational Health or Locum jobs to name a few that are currently popular for GPs.
Speak to one of our Senior Consultants and find out whether you need any career and recruitment advice to help you navigate through the positions available and most suited to your situation.
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