BEACH to investigate GPs' unpaid work
General practice research program Bettering the Evaluation and Care of Health (BEACH) is for the first time gathering information on how much time GPs spend on patient care outside Medicare-rebatable consultations.
Associate Professor Helena Britt, director of Sydney Medical School’s Family Medical Research Centre, which runs BEACH, said she made the change after GPs accused the government of downplaying the time they spent on patient care to justify cuts to mental health MBS rebates in last year's federal budget.
From November last year, the government slashed rebates for Better Access GP mental health visits almost in half, claiming the average Better Access consultation ran just 28 minutes even though it attracted a higher rebate than a regular GP session lasting 40 minutes.
GPs rejected that justification, saying they spent far longer on Better Access consultations than the time they spent with the patient, on matters such as paperwork and liaising with other allied health providers.
Professor Britt said while the new data stream – the biggest change to BEACH’s methodology in years – was triggered by the Better Access cuts, it would apply to all aspects of general practice.
“While it arose in the Better Access [debate]… this is an issue that’s expressed by many people about general practice because it is fee for service,” she told MO. “There really isn’t a measure of [non-rebatable consultation time].”
For the first year, Professor Britt said, BEACH would collect only basic information on what GPs are doing off the Medicare clock.
“But if this works in the first year, we can consider how we can expand it a little,” she said. “You could almost call this a trial run.”
“I think that GPs may appreciate the fact that we’re making an effort to measure this.”