19 September 2019

Female GPs on the frontline of mental health battle

The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) has launched General Practice: Health of the Nation, its annual health check-up on general practice.

RACGP President Dr Harry Nespolon presented the report to some of Australia’s key decision-makers, including Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt, Shadow Health Minister Chris Bowen and Greens leader Richard Di Natale, at Parliament House this morning.

The report contains some key findings concerning current and emerging issues for female GPs and their patients.

“When a patient visits their local clinic to raise a psychological issue, they are more likely to be seen by a female GP,” Dr Nespolon said.

“This is particularly important considering patients are talking to their GP about mental health more than any other single health issue. And the rate is climbing, with 65% of patients raising psychological issues in 2019, compared to 61% in 2017.”

Dr Nespolon said this increase could not solely be attributed to patient preference, even if that remained a key factor.

“We think more people see a female GP for psychological issues because people believe GPs have particular skills and interests in certain areas,’ he said.

“But even when we adjust for patient preferences, female GPs are still more likely to manage psychological issues, so there is more at play here.”

Melbourne-based GP Dr Lara Roeske said it was alarming that female GPs were reluctant to prioritise their own health.

“The report finds that 45% of female GPs are more likely to report a delay in seeking treatment and care, compared to 35% of their male colleagues.

“This is most often attributed to finding the time to schedule an appointment. All GPs need to be supported and encouraged to look after themselves – a healthier doctor equals a healthier patient.”

Other key highlights of the 2019 General Practice: Health of the Nation report reveal that:

  • patients talk to their GP about mental health more than any other issue
  • GPs are avoiding or delaying seeking their own healthcare for a range of issues, in part due to concerns about being reported to regulatory bodies
  • out-of-pocket costs are increasing at double the consumer price index, with the average patient cost now higher than the rebate for a standard GP consultation.
  • 14% of those delaying a GP visit do so because of cost concerns
  • there is a decline in the proportion of services bulk billed outside of major cities
  • more and more medical graduates are choosing other medical specialities over general practice, in part because a large amount of general practice work is unfunded
  • the costs of providing care are increasing year on year and not being matched through appropriate health funding
  • Medicare rebates remain the top health policy issue for GPs.

You can read the report here.

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