Australian Health Review Australian Health Review Society
Journal of the Australian Healthcare & Hospitals Association
RESEARCH ARTICLE

Outpatient consultant physician service usage in Australia by specialty and state and territory

Gary L. Freed A B and Amy R. Allen A
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A Centre for Health Policy, Melbourne School of Population and Global Health, The University of Melbourne, 207 Bouverie Street, Carlton, Vic. 3053, Australia. Email: amy.allen@unimelb.edu.au

B Corresponding author. Email: gary.freed@unimelb.edu.au

Australian Health Review - https://doi.org/10.1071/AH17125
Submitted: 27 February 2017  Accepted: 5 October 2017   Published online: 21 December 2017

Abstract

Objectives To determine national service usage for initial and subsequent outpatient consultations with a consultant physician and any variation in service-use patterns between states and territories relative to population.

Methods An analysis was conducted of consultant physician Medicare claims data from the year 2014 for an initial (item 110) and subsequent consultation (item 116) and, for patients with multiple morbidities, initial management planning (item 132) and review (133). The analysis included 12 medical specialties representative of common adult non-surgical medical care (cardiology, endocrinology, gastroenterology, general medicine, geriatric medicine, haematology, immunology and allergy, medical oncology, nephrology, neurology, respiratory medicine and rheumatology). Main outcome measures were per-capita service use by medical speciality and by state and territory and ratio of subsequent consultations to initial consultations by medical speciality and by state and territory.

Results There was marked variation in per-capita consultant physician service use across the states and territories, tending higher than average in New South Wales and Victoria, and lower than average in the Northern Territory. There was variation between and within specialties across states and territories in the ratio of subsequent consultations to initial consultations.

Conclusion Significant per-capita variation in consultant physician utilisation is occurring across Australia. Future studies should explore the variation in greater detail to discern whether workforce issues, access or economic barriers to care, or the possibility of over- or under-servicing in certain geographic areas is leading to this variation.

What is known about the topic? There are nearly 11 million initial and subsequent consultant physician consultations billed to Medicare per year, incurring nearly A$850 million in Medicare benefits. Little attention has been paid to per-capita variation in rates of consultant physician service use across states and territories.

What does this paper add? There is marked variation in per-capita consultant physician service use across different states and territories both within and between specialties.

What are the implications for practitioners? Variation in service use may be due to limitations in the healthcare workforce, access or economic barriers, or systematic over- or under-servicing. The clinical appropriateness of repeated follow-up consultations is unclear.

Additional keywords: consultations, variation, workforce.


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