GPs are the ‘heroes of this story’

3 minute read

Eeyore politicians like shiny new ideas and data in a bid for Tigger-like popularity. But they need to be like Denmark and save money, not spend it.

In late 2021, then-RACGP president Associate Clinical Professor Karen Price encouraged GPs to move toward mixed billing because bulk billing had become unsustainable.

Over the next 18 months, for a variety of reasons, bulk billing went into freefall – so much so that Canberra was forced to take notice.

It’s fair to say that she’s a doctor with her finger on the pulse of general practice.

Speaking at The Medical Republic and Health Services Daily-produced conference Burning GP today, Professor Price made another keen observation.

“Australia still has one of the best-ranked health systems in the world – our problems are political,” she told delegates.

“We need to remember that GPs are the heroes of the story.”

Politicians, Professor Price said, are like Eeyore in that they are nobody’s favourite character and know it.

It’s this fundamental unpopularity – and an un-Eeyore-like desire to change it – that makes them susceptible to shiny new ideas backed by shiny new data.

“We all love the charismatic and excitable Tigger,” said Professor Price.

“In my view, there is a fetish for measurement.”

It’s these Tigger-like ideas which catch the eye of politicians and ultimately win funding, like mental health apps and urgent care centres.

While there’s nothing necessarily wrong with using hard data, the former RACGP president said, problems arise when big data is the only measure being used.

“[Measuring every outcome] advantages single tasks over comprehensive healthcare,” she said.

“It cannot measure the person-centeredness, the therapeutic relationship that drives outcomes.

“There are certain human-to-human relationships which simply cannot be appraised from above and afar.”

Trying to “upgrade” the therapeutic bond between patient and GP, Professor Price said, is akin to “looting and vandalising” a critically important connection.

The anti-Tigger approach to healthcare funding starts with taking a look at what governments can save money on, which can be just as valuable as looking at what they are spending on.

One country that has successfully transformed its healthcare system to put general practice at the centre was Denmark, which famously closed some of its tertiary hospitals to refocus on GPs.

“I’ve heard the whispers that we can’t tax the population up to 50%,” Professor Price said.

“But we can save money in the health system.

“We lose of billions of dollars to inefficiencies, and I think [the government could do] some consultations to find that money.

“It does need political will and state and federal cooperation to promote health system efficiency … big data doesn’t tell us everything.”

Burning GP is on at Mantra on Salt in Kingscliff NSW today and tomorrow.

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