So what insights has the report delivered? What do we now know about Australians and their general practice visits?
Why do we go to the doctor?
According to the reason for encounter recorded in GP notes, the top five reasons that Australians went to see their GPs in 2016–17 were:
- to obtain a prescription
- for review/follow-up purposes
- for an upper respiratory tract infection (URTI)
- for immunisation, and
- to discuss results.
What’s wrong with us?
Of 14 of the most common conditions that were identified in practice software for the 2.1 million patients, the top 5 were:
- hypertension (high blood pressure)
- dyslipidaemia (high cholesterol levels)
- anxiety, and
Many patients also have health risk factors. Smoking status was recorded by doctors for 82% of patients over 16 years of age, allowing further analysis of this potent risk to health.
On the other hand, BMI was recorded, or could be calculated, for only 29% of patients over 18. Only 14% of patients aged over 16 had alcohol use recorded, of whom 42% were recorded as non-drinkers.
What are doctors prescribing?
Given that obtaining a prescription is the top reason for visiting a GP, what are GPs prescribing? This information comes from the automated systems used to print prescriptions out for patients, and the dataset doesn’t record whether the prescription was ever filled at a pharmacy. Even so, it’s striking that more than a third of patients had one or two prescriptions during the year, another third had 3 or more, and 31 % had no prescriptions recorded.
Prescribing patterns varied between men and women, and between more and less disadvantaged areas of Australia, and in general, numbers of prescriptions per patient increase with age.
The most common medicines prescribed during 2016–17 were medicines for the cardiovascular system, making up 29% of total prescriptions.
What tests are being ordered?
On average, 25 individual pathology test results were recorded per patient in the MedicineInsight data. Women had higher average test numbers than men, and averages also varied between areas of socio-economic advantage and disadvantage, with more tests ordered in disadvantaged areas.
The top 5 pathology tests carried out in 2016–17 were:
- haemoglobin (as a proxy for full blood count (FBC)
- ALT (as a proxy for liver function tests (LFTs)
- sodium (as a proxy for urea, electrolytes and creatinine (UECs)
- total cholesterol (as a proxy for lipids)
- TSH (as a proxy for thyroid function tests).
One group of patients had more than 80 pathology tests in the study period, and these were significantly more likely to have one or more chronic conditions, particularly chronic kidney disease or cardiovascular disease.