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New primary care model aims to improve outcomes while lowering health system costs

Treatment and funding model trial aims to reward quality care while improving the health system budget bottom line

A team of researchers from the University of Wollongong (UOW), Monash University and the University of Tasmania has won a competitive selection to undertake a trial of a new general practice funding model.

The trial comes from a partnership between Federal Department of Health and the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP). The research team will test if the new funding model can improve quality of care received by patients attending general practice.

One of two successful applicants nationally, the research involves collaboration between three general practice research networks that are aligned to each of the three universities.

General Practitioner Professor Andrew Bonney, the Roberta Williams Chair of General Practice in UOW’s School of Medicine, will lead the University’s involvement in the trial.

“Countries with strong primary health care generally have better health outcomes and lower health and related social system costs,” Professor Bonney said.

“If you treat people’s health issues at the primary care level then you can reduce rates of unnecessary hospitalisations as well as other health system and aged care costs, while improving health system quality of care in tackling chronic disease and conditions across the life course from the young to elderly and addressing issues of inequality.

“Under the current system, there are barriers to GPs providing longer consultations due to the structure of patient rebates. The RACGP wanted to test whether removing these barriers, encouraging continuity of care and longer consultations leads to better outcomes for vulnerable patients and patients with chronic conditions.”

Professor Bonney said the collaboration between UOW, Monash University and the University of Tasmania leverages the research strengths of each institution. It also meant the trial would have a broad spread geographically and across different socioeconomic groups.

UOW’s Illawarra and Southern Practice Research Network includes practices from the Illawarra and Southern Highlands south to the Shoalhaven and Bega and west to the Riverina.

Alongside his research role at UOW, Professor Bonney also works as a general practitioner in the Shoalhaven so has first-hand knowledge of many of the issues that GPs face as the front-line of the health system.

“I’m hoping this might really make a difference,” he said.

“I work as a GP in a small town on the NSW South Coast; we have a lot of older patients and a lot of Indigenous patients. Both groups that are overrepresented when it comes to chronic health conditions and patients from both groups benefit when you take the time to look at their overall health needs.

"At the moment we don’t have a system that rewards that.”

Caption: Professor Andrew Bonney (left) with UOW Dean of Medicine Professor Nicholas Zwar.