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1.  Impact of telephone triage on emergency after hours GP Medicare usage: a time-series analysis 
Background
The Australian government sponsored trials aimed at addressing problems in after hours primary medical care service use in five different parts of the country with different after hours care problems. The study's objective was to determine in four of the five trials where telephone triage was the sole innovation, if there was a reduction in emergency GP after hours service utilization (GP first call-out) as measured in Medicare Benefits Schedule claim data. Monthly MBS claim data in both the pre-trial and trial periods was monitored over a 3-year period in each trial area as well as in a national sample outside the trial areas (National comparator). Poisson regression analysis was used in analysis.
Results
There was significant reduction in first call out MBS claims in three of the four study areas where stand-alone call centre services existed. These were the Statewide Call Centre in both its Metropolitan and Non-metropolitan areas in which it operated – Relative Risk (RR) = 0.87 (95% Confidence interval: 0.86 – 0.88) and 0.60 (95% CI: 0.54 – 0.68) respectively. There was also a reduction in the Regional Call Centre in the non-Metropolitan area in which it operated (RR = 0.46 (95% CI: 0.35 – 0.61) though a small increase in its Metropolitan area (RR = 1.11 (95% CI: 1.06 – 1.17). For the two telephone triage services embedded in existing organisations, there was also a significant reduction for the Deputising Service – RR = 0.62 (95% CI: 0.61 – 0.64) but no change in the Local Triage centre area.
Conclusion
The four telephone triage services were associated with reduced GP MBS claims for first callout after hours care in most study areas. It is possible that other factors could be responsible for some of this reduction, for example, MBS submitted claims for after hours GP services being reclassified from 'after hours' to 'in hours'. The goals of stand-alone call centres which are aimed principally at meeting population needs rather than managing demand may be being met only in part.
doi:10.1186/1743-8462-4-21
PMCID: PMC2151763  PMID: 17927836
2.  Impact of standalone and embedded telephone triage systems on after hours primary medical care service utilisation and mix in Australia 
Background
The Australian government sponsored five local trials aimed at addressing problems in after hours (AH) primary medical care (PMC). The study's objective was to determine if the four trials, where telephone triage was the sole innovation, led to a reduction in AH service utilisation and change in service mix towards AH GP clinics. Changes in utilisation and mix of AH GP clinic and home visits, ED and ambulance use were monitored in the trial areas, and in a national sample to adjust for the effects of secular trend. Pre- and post-trial telephone surveys of two separate random samples of approximately 350 AH PMC user households in each area were conducted.
Results
Some types of AH PMC use became more frequent in both of the standalone services using nurse-administered proprietary call centre software, which were aimed at better addressing population need (Statewide call centre; Regional call centre). Service use overall (95%CI: 1.03–1.83) and GP clinic use (95%CI: 1.07–2.00) increased in the metro area of the Statewide call centre and in GP clinic (95%CI: 1.04–2.14) and home visits (95%CI: 1.03–3.91) in the non-metro area of the Regional call centre. Service mix only changed in the non-metro area of the Regional call centre with increased contact in GP home visits (95%CI: 1.02–4.38). Levels of use remained unchanged in both embedded services using other than proprietary software, which were established to support the GP workforce (Deputising service; Local triage centre). Service mix only changed in the Deputising service with a change away from AH GP clinics in both contact (95%CI: 0.39–0.97) and frequency (95% CI: -2.12 – -0.7).
Conclusion
Bearing in mind limitations in estimating AH PMC utilisation levels and mix, it is concluded that the impacts of telephone triage were generally smaller in Australia than reported elsewhere. There were different impacts on levels of service utilisation and service mix in standalone call centres and embedded services. Impacts of telephone triage on service utilisation and mix are influenced by the type of telephone triage offered, the goals of the agency providing the service, as well as local factors. (345 words)
doi:10.1186/1743-8462-2-30
PMCID: PMC1334205  PMID: 16343354
3.  Strengthening Medicare: Will increasing the bulk-billing rate and supply of general practitioners increase access to Medicare-funded general practitioner services and does rurality matter? 
Background
Recent increases in the bulk-billing rate have been taken as an indication that the Federal government's Strengthening Medicare initiative, and particularly the bulk-billing incentives, are 'working'. Given the enduring geographic differences in the supply of general practitioners (GPs) it is timely to reconsider the impact that this increase in the provision of 'free care' will have on access to Medicare-funded GP services in rural and urban areas of Australia. Utilisation has been modelled as two different stochastic processes: the decision to consult and the frequency of consultation.
Results
In the decision to consult model the supply of FFS GPs is a more important predictor of utilisation than the bulk-billing rate. Paradoxically the modelling predicts that ceteris paribus increases in either GP supply or the bulk-billing rate appear to have perverse effects in some areas by decreasing utilisation. In the frequency of consultation model, GP density is not a predictor and increasing the bulk-billing rate will unambiguously increase the frequency of consultation across all areas. In both models, the positive impacts associated with changes in supply and cost are constrained outside the inner metropolitan area by reduced geographic accessibility to Medicare-funded GP services. The modelling also shows that people are more likely to consult a GP in areas of high socioeconomic disadvantage, although socioeconomic status is not a predictor of frequency of consultation.
Conclusion
Bulk-billing rates and the supply of FFS GPs are important features of the Australian health care system that are, potentially, amenable to policy manipulation. The implications of this research are that government policies designed to achieve similarity in these characteristics across geographic areas will not result in equity of access because they fail to address problems caused by geographic inaccessibility in rural and remote areas. Attempting to increase bulk-billing rates in some of these areas may, in fact, reduce access to FFS GP services.
doi:10.1186/1743-8462-2-18
PMCID: PMC1215471  PMID: 16111496

Results 1-3 (3)