New research suggests that Australian doctors are faced with challenges when it comes to accessing patients, carers and medical information within the aged care sector.

The University of Wollongong research was lead by Dr Russell Pearson, a Clinical Associate Professor at UOW’s School of Medicine and a practising GP, said that GPs often found themselves in a game of “hide and seek”.

GPs are supposed to routinely visit aged care facilities to check on the residents. But if they find it to be a difficult process, they are less likely to return and maintain the ongoing relationship.

“In 2013 I saw an advertisement for practices looking for GPs which mentioned no nursing home visiting as an incentive to joining the practice and I was astonished! It made me wonder had the people writing the ads accurately captured the mood of Australian GPs?”

“The GPs involved in the study were enormously frustrated with their visits to nursing homes, which often revealed a game of hide and seek,” Dr Pearson said.

“They’d arrive and couldn’t find the nurse who knew about the patient, or they couldn’t find the patient, or they couldn’t find the patient’s notes or medical charts.”

“Everything was difficult and they had a lot of seemingly unnecessary paperwork to do.”

“Only about 50 per cent of Australian GPs currently visit nursing homes, and there’s a heavy reliance on older male GPs – many who will soon be retiring,” he said. “Only 40 per cent of early career GPs make these visits.”

It is predicted that the number of older Australians living in aged care facilities will grow from 270,000 in 2013-2014 to 700,000 by 2050 – and if the number of GPs caring for this growing population does not increase, those in the aged care industry with be negatively impacted.  

Aside from the difficulties in the actual work, the doctors in the study also said that there were issues with remuneration and access to further education.

“GPs felt they were financially disadvantaged by their commitment to visiting RACFs,” Dr Pearson said.

Many of the doctors felt that they were not equipped with adequate training to treat older people’s complex medical conditions.

“Younger GPs were hesitant about engaging in this work because many were inexperienced or educationally unprepared because of the lack of RACF visiting during their training.”

That said, the research also found that GP’s found working with the elderly to be extremely rewarding.
“They enjoyed the continuity of care – when their patients went into nursing homes they wanted to keep looking after them,” he said. “They felt it was the proper role of a GP.”

“The research uncovers the urgent need to turn some attention to dealing with these avoidable educational, logistical and bureaucratic difficulties,” Dr Pearson said.

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