Report finds five-fold variations in accessibility of GP care
Healthy Communities: Australians' experiences with primary health care in 2010–11 shows, for the first time, how Australians at the local level rate their experiences with general practitioners (GPs).
What is a Medicare Local?
There are 61 Medicare Locals across Australia, covering defined geographic catchments. They were established in 2011 to improve the coordination and integration of primary health services within their areas.
Medicare Locals are tasked with achieving improvements in responsiveness, integration and co-ordination of local health care services.
Peer groups explained
Medicare Locals vary considerably in terms of size, remoteness and population characteristics. This makes comparisons between them difficult.
To make it easier to compare Medicare Locals fairly, the Authority has allocated Medicare Locals to one of seven peer groups, which are chosen on the basis of similarities in remoteness and the socioeconomic status of their populations. The report lets us see how areas compare with other similar locations in the three metropolitan, two regional and two rural peer groups, as well as providing an overview of national variations.
How to use this report
Each column shows the results for each measure for each Medicare Local population. Results for the Medicare Local with the most desirable experiences nationally for each measure are highlighted in green, while the Medicare Locals with the least desirable experiences are highlighted in orange. (There may be two or more green or orange highlights in each column if results are tied.) The two tables must be read together to see a national picture, which is why a column in one table may have only one result highlighted, or none at all.
Note that the green and orange highlights in Tables 1 and 2 portray a narrower variation between the highest and lowest Medicare Locals on some measures than those described in the report text on pages 9–12 and the maps on pages 13–72. This is because none of the results in the Rural 2 peer group have been highlighted on Tables 1 and 2 as either green or orange, due to the fact that more than 5% of the people covered by the Medicare Locals in this peer group live in very remote areas. Very remote areas were not included in the Australian Bureau of Statistics' Patient Experience Survey 2010–11, on which the findings are based.
From page 13 to 72 of the main report there are a series of page spreads that depict the findings for each measure on a map of Australia. On the right hand side of each of these two-page spreads is a column of figures showing the result for each Medicare Local for that measure, and (in the coloured horizontal bars) the result at the level of each peer group. At the right-hand edge of this column is a “whisker plot” that depicts the same information graphically – allowing an at-a-glance representation of how each Medicare Local population sits in relation to, firstly, other Medicare Locals populations in the same peer group, and secondly, to the peer group result (the vertical dotted line). This variance within peer groups is discussed further from pages 9 to 12.
About the data
The data in this report were collected before Medicare Locals were set up and is therefore a starting point to understanding primary health care services in Australia. The report provides health care decision-makers with locally relevant information which, internationally, has been proven to help drive improvements in health services.
Most of the data is based on Australian Bureau of Statistics Patient Experience Survey 2010–11 data. Some of the results (for GP use and GP after-hours visits) are derived from Medicare Benefits Schedule data. All of the results are mapped to the place of the patient’s residence rather than the location where the service was provided. For example, if a person saw a GP at a clinic near their place of work, this would be reflected in the results for the Medicare Local where the patient lived. This style of reporting gives an understanding of the health of a local population.
The results represent the views of nearly 27,000 adults across 61 Medicare Local areas. Some of the measures are broken down into more than 300 areas called Statistical Areas Level 3 (SA3s), which are used by the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
Why are we doing this report?
The Authority bases its activities on a set of nearly 50 performance indicators agreed to by the Council of Australian Governments (COAG).
The Authority has chosen to focus this, its first Healthy Communities report, on a subset of those indicators that relate to the experiences people have with primary health care, including GP consultations, measures of patient experiences, wait times for GP services and after-hours GP service use. The report provides some extra information not covered by the COAG indicators, such as Australians' views of their health status, to help interpret the findings.
The role of the National Health Performance Authority
The Authority was set up as an independent agency under the National Health Reform Act 2011. It began full operations in 2012. Under the terms of the Act, the Authority will monitor and report on the performance of Local Hospital Networks, public and private hospitals, primary health care organisations and other bodies that provide healthcare services.