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Private specialist practice: the forgotten sector in health care reform

Tim P Usherwood
Med J Aust 2012; 196 (4): 235-236. || doi: 10.5694/mja11.10904
Published online: 5 March 2012

A window of opportunity for change

The current health care reform process is remarkable for its lack of attention to private non-general practice (non-GP) specialist services. About 23 million ambulatory visits are made to non-GP specialists each year, and $1.6 billion of the Medicare budget flows to these services. For the patient, effective collaboration between his or her various health care providers is essential for safe, high-quality care. This is particularly so when the patient is consulting more than one non-GP specialist. An individual with type 2 diabetes, for example, might be seeing an endocrinologist, a nephrologist, a cardiologist and perhaps others, in addition to his or her general practitioner and allied health providers.1 The final report of the National Health and Hospitals Reform Commission (NHHRC) noted the key role of non-GP specialists in the shared management of care for patients with complex and chronic health needs, and recommended improving access to a more comprehensive and multidisciplinary range of primary health care and specialist services in the community through the establishment of Comprehensive Primary Health Care Centres and Services, available for extended hours.2 However, the current reforms are concerned almost exclusively with public hospital, general practice, community and primary care services. While GP Super Clinics may provide consulting facilities for visiting medical specialists, there are currently only 64 implemented or planned across Australia, and there is no formal requirement or policy incentive for functional integration between non-GP specialists and members of the primary health care team working in the same GP Super Clinic.3

  • Tim P Usherwood

  • Sydney Medical School — Westmead, University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW.

Correspondence: timu@med.usyd.edu.au

Acknowledgements: 

I thank the colleagues who commented on a draft of this article and provided suggestions, especially Jim Gillespie, Jenny Reath and Lesley Russell.

Competing interests:

I am a general practitioner.

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