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GP clinics can ease pressure on emergency care

Locating general practice clinics at hospitals will do more to reduce the waiting time for emergency care than adding more emergency departments, a Monash University study has found. In a timely report, the University’s Centre for Health Economics found that co-located GP clinics cut emergency department (ED) waiting times by 19 per cent, while providing more emergency departments in an area actually added to the time emergency category 2 patients had to wait for treatment.

25 Mar 2013

Locating general practice clinics at hospitals will do more to reduce the waiting time for emergency care than adding more emergency departments, a Monash University study has found.

In a timely report, the University’s Centre for Health Economics found that co-located GP clinics cut emergency department (ED) waiting times by 19 per cent, while providing more emergency departments in an area actually added to the time emergency category 2 patients had to wait for treatment.

The lead author of the study, Dr Anurag Sharma, said the counter-intuitive finding showed that simply adding more EDs did not relieve the demand pressures many hospitals were experiencing.

Figures compiled by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare show hospitals in most states and territories are struggling to cut emergency department waiting times, with more than a third of ED patients taking more than four hours to complete their visit – well short of the national target that at least 90 per cent of patients are to be admitted, transferred or discharged from EDs within four hours by the end of 2015.

“It was believed that by providing more emergency departments in a region, there would be more choice for patients, thereby reducing overcrowding and waiting times in emergency departments,” Dr Sharma said. “However, our study found that more choice of emergency departments actually increased the waiting time for emergency category 2 patients, who are suffering from a critical illness or very severe pain and need urgent attention, as it generated more demand from non-urgent patients.”

Instead, he said, co-located GP clinics provided an alternative place for non-urgent patients to be treated, freeing up EDs to concentrate on emergency cases.

Co-located GP clinics are special purpose services located near or adjacent to public hospital emergency departments, and provide acute, episodic primary care such as medical consultations, fracture management, and treatment of minor injuries and trauma.

Dr Sharma said diverting non-urgent patients to alternative care meant EDs had more resources for treating those who needed emergency care.

“Co-located GP clinics provide timely, safe and accessible services for patients seeking primary medical care outside business hours, and are a good alternative for patients who don’t need urgent attention,” he said.

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Published: 25 Mar 2013