Journal of Primary Health Care Journal of Primary Health Care Society
Journal of The Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners
RESEARCH ARTICLE (Open Access)

Unmet need for referred services as measured by general practice

Graham McGeoch 1 , Kieran Holland 1 , Melissa Kerdemelidis 2 , Nikki Elliot 1 , Brett Shand 1 , Catherine Fink 1 , Anne Dixon 1 , Carolyn Gullery 2
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

1 Canterbury Initiative, Canterbury District Health Board, Christchurch, New Zealand

2 Planning and Funding and Decision Support, Canterbury District Health Board, Christchurch, New Zealand

Correspondence to: Graham McGeoch, Canterbury Initiative, Canterbury District Health Board, Christchurch, New Zealand. Email: graham.mcgeoch@cdhb.health.nz

Journal of Primary Health Care - https://doi.org/10.1071/HC17044
Published online: 12 December 2017

Journal Compilation © Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners 2017.
This is an open access article licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Abstract

INTRODUCTION: Unmet needs are a key indicator of the success of a health system. Clinicians and funders in Christchurch, Canterbury, New Zealand were concerned that unmet health need was hidden.

AIM: The aim of this survey was to estimate the proportion of patients attending general practice who were unable to access clinically indicated referred services.

METHODS: The survey used a novel method to estimate unserviced health needs. General practitioners (GPs, n = 54) asked their patients (n = 2135) during a consultation about any health needs requiring a referred service. If both agreed that a service was potentially beneficial and not available, this was documented on an e-referral system for review. The outcomes of actual referrals were also reviewed.

RESULTS: The patient group was broadly representative of the Canterbury population, but over-sampled female and middle-aged people and under-sampled Māori. Data adjusted to regional demographics showed that 3.6% of patients had a GP-confirmed unserviced health need. Elective orthopaedic surgery, general surgery and mental health were areas of greatest need. Unserviced health needs were significantly (P ≤ 0.05) associated with greater deprivation, middle-age, and receiving high health-use subsidies.

DISCUSSION: To our knowledge, this is the first survey of GP and patient agreement on unserviced referred health needs. Measuring unserviced health needs in this way is directly relevant to service planning because the gaps identified reflect clinically indicated services that patients want and need. The survey method is an improvement on declined referral rates as a measure of need. Key factors in the method were using a patient-initiated GP consultation and an e-referral system to collect data.

KEYWORDS: General practitioners; health research; health services; equity; doctor–patient relationships


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