Objective: To audit general paediatric outpatient practice in Australia, including consultation characteristics and management patterns, diagnoses, factors associated with diagnoses, and billing practices.
Design, setting and participants: In October – November 2008, members of the Australian Paediatric Research Network (APRN; a national network of paediatricians established to facilitate multisite secondary care research) were invited to prospectively complete brief standardised data collection forms for 100 consecutive patients or all patients during a 2-week period, whichever came first.
Main outcome measures: Length of consultation and type of diagnoses made; proportions recorded as having medications, investigations or referral; odds ratios for factors associated with diagnoses; and proportions of Medicare items billed.
Results: Of 300 APRN members, 199 (66%) completed data forms for 8345 consultations in which 15 375 diagnoses were made (mean, 1.8 diagnoses per consultation); 46.0%, 30.9% and 22.8% of consultations involved 1, 2 and ≥ 3 diagnoses, respectively. New and review consultations lasted a mean of 41 (SD, 20) and 26 (SD, 15) minutes, respectively. The most common diagnoses were attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (18.3%), baby checks (9.1%), and learning difficulties (7.5%). Patients seen in 47.5% of consultations had medications (eg, prescriptions, vaccinations) recorded, and patients in 27.2% of consultations were referred elsewhere, usually to a subspecialist or psychologist (31.6% and 26.6% of referrals, respectively). Male sex of the child and owning a Health Care Card were associated with most developmental–behavioural diagnoses. Paediatricians tended to bill for single disease/non-complex consultations, even when seeing a child with multiple problems.
Conclusions: Australian paediatricians see children with a range of diagnoses that are often multiple and complex. Our findings provide directions for future secondary care research, and may inform workforce planning and paediatricians’ training requirements.
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