Skip to main content
Chapter 2: General practice access

2.1 Patient access to, and experience of, general practice

There are 8147 general practices in Australia, 84% of which are accredited.30

Australians access general practice more than any other part of the health system, with almost 90% of the population visiting their GP at least once each year.1

Patients report they visit their GP more than they receive prescriptions, have pathology or imaging tests, or see other specialists (Figure 10). 

Figure 10. Patients see their GP more than any other health professional

Patients see their GP more than any other health professional

Measure: Patient responses to the question ‘Since <month> last year, have you [insert category]?’
Base: Total survey responses, n = 28,719
Data source: Australian Bureau of Statistics. Patient experiences in Australia: Summary of findings, 2018–19. Cat. no. 4839.0. Canberra: ABS, 2019.

In 2018–19, less than 1% of patients reported they needed to, but did not, see a GP at all in the previous 12 months, supporting the idea that general practice is very accessible to patients.31

Less than 23% of people reported that they had at least once delayed or avoided seeing a GP when needed – the lowest rate in six years. The most common reasons for delaying or not booking an appointment with a GP when needed are non-cost related, such as the patient being too busy or the preferred GP being unavailable (Figure 11).

GPs responding to the MABEL survey indicated that the median wait time to see a GP at their practice is less than 24 hours, although this increased to two days where the patient specified one preferred GP.32

Only 3% of patients cite cost as a reason to delay seeing their GP (Figure 11). By comparison, almost 7% of patients report they delayed or did not get prescribed medication due to cost.31

 

Less than 1% of patients reported they needed to, but did not, see a GP 31

Figure 11. Cost is rarely a reason patients delay seeing their GP

Cost is rarely a reason patients delay seeing their GP

Measure: Patient responses to the question ‘Thinking about when you needed to see a GP but didn’t, what was the main reason you did not go?’
Base: Total survey responses, n = 28,719
Data source: Australian Bureau of Statistics. Patient experiences in Australia: Summary of findings, 2018–19. Cat. no. 4839.0. Canberra: ABS, 2019.

Almost half of Australians who needed to see a GP report that they visited a GP four or more times during the year (Figure 12). This rate has remained steady over the past four years.31

Patient age and gender have an effect on frequency of presentations, with females seeing their GP more often than males, and older people visiting their GP more regularly than younger people.

Of patients who visited a GP, one in two females (52%) visited their GP four or more times in 2018–19, compared to two in five (41%) of males. Fifty-eight per cent of people aged ≥55 visited their GP four or more times in 2018–19, compared to 40% of people between 15 and 54 years of age (Figure 12, Figure 13).

Figure 12. Most patients visit their GP multiple times during the year

Most patients visit their GP multiple times during the year

Measure: Patient responses to the question ‘Since <month> last year, how many times did you see a GP for your own health?’, split by patient age
Base: Total survey responses, n = 28,719
Data source: Australian Bureau of Statistics. Patient experiences in Australia: Summary of findings, 2018–19. Cat. no. 4839.0. Canberra: ABS, 2019.
 

Figure 13. Older patients visit their GP more frequently than younger patients*

Older patients visit their GP more frequently than younger patients

*Where data labels are not present, data represents less than 5%; due to rounding, figures may not add up to 100%
Measure: Patient responses to the question ‘Since <month> last year, how many times did you see a GP for your own health?’, split by patient age
Base: Total survey responses, n = 28,719
Data source: Australian Bureau of Statistics. Patient experiences in Australia: Summary of findings, 2018–19. Cat. no. 4839.0. Canberra: ABS, 2019.

Patients consistently report very positive experiences with their GP. Nine in 10 patients report their GP always or often spends enough time with them. Almost 95% of patients report that their GP always or often shows respect, and more than 90% report that their GP listens carefully (Figure 14).

Older patients are more likely to report a positive experience with their GP than younger patients.31

In 2018–19, the number of people who reported that they had a preferred GP declined by 1.8% from the previous year, to 75.5%. As with previous years, younger patients and male patients are less likely to report that they have a preferred GP (Figure 15).

Figure 14. Patients have positive experiences when they see their GP

Patients have positive experiences when they see their GP

Measure: Patient responses to the question ‘Thinking about all the GPs you have seen in the last 12 months, how often did they [listen carefully to / show respect for / spend enough time with you]?’, split by patient-reported frequency of GP behaviour
Base: Total survey responses, n = 28,719
Data source: Australian Bureau of Statistics. Patient experiences in Australia: Summary of findings, 2018–19. Cat. no. 4839.0. Canberra: ABS, 2019.

Figure 15. Older people and females are more likely to have a preferred GP

Older people and females are more likely to have a preferred GP

Measure: Patient response to the question ‘Do you have a GP you prefer to see?’, split by age and gender
Base: Total survey responses, n = 28,719
Data source: Australian Bureau of Statistics. Patient experiences in Australia: Summary of findings, 2018–19. Cat. no. 4839.0. Canberra: ABS, 2019.

  • 1. Department of Health. Annual Medicare statistics: Financial year 1984–85 to 2019–20. Canberra: DoH, 2020.
  • 30. Productivity Commission. Report on government services. Canberra: Productivity Commission, 2020.
  • 31. Australian Bureau of Statistics. Patient experience in Australia: Summary of findings, 2015–16 to 2018–19. Canberra: ABS, 2019.
  • 32. University of Melbourne, Monash University. Medicine in Australia: Balancing Employment and Life (MABEL). MABEL Wave 11 survey. Melbourne: MABEL, 2020.

© 2021 The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) ABN 34 000 223 807