According to recent news reports, city-dwelling Australians are now able to benefit from a surplus of general practitioners. Not only can you phone today and get an appointment today with the GP of your choice, but you can even go after you finish work or on a Saturday or a Sunday — or so we are led to infer.
Competition is so severe that, if you phone your GP’s rooms at night, on Sunday or on a public holiday, your GP, or some other doctor from the same practice – who has access to your medical records – will come to your home. This is the after-hours service which all vocationally registered GPs, have stated, in an affidavit, that they provide and which attracts higher Medicare rebates for all the services they perform.
Surpluses breed competition, a wonderful thing in any service profession. Thanks to the current surplus, confidently predicted to continue for some decades with the expansion of medical schools, you will never again hear a recorded message telling you to go to the nearest hospital’s accident and emergency department, or to call an ambulance or dial OOO. Not only that, but the days are over when a strange doctor, who knows nothing about you, is sent by a deputising service whose number is offered to you on your GP’s answering machine.
Now, thanks to the competition which arises naturally in any situation of surplus, you have someone you can truly call “My GP”. He or she is the doctor you always see when you go to the surgery. No longer do your hear the word “The doctor will see you now.” Now you delight in hearing, “Your doctor will see you now.”
Of course, the surplus-induced competition does not only show itself in the quality of the service you receive and in its accessibility, but is also apparent in the fees you are asked to pay. Gone are the days of handing over a credit card, or waiting for your Medicare rebate to appear in your bank account. With a surplus of GPs, competition ensures that your own GP always bulk-bills you.
And you could ask your GP, who is now so keen to keep you as a patient, to ask the same of any specialist to whom you might be referred. Competition is universally recognised as the most efficient way to bring down prices. Your GP, in order to keep your custom in a competitive market, will quickly find the specialists willing to bulk-bill you. That will certainly save you much anxiety.
So let us all rejoice, as patients, in the surplus of urban general practitioners. Our country cousins are not so lucky, but they have other compensations, such as clean air, fresh milk and produce which has not been frozen.
All together now: “Three cheers for the surplus of urban GPs and for all the new medical schools which are training them.” The surplus is the best thing for health care since health insurance first made its way to Australia. Otto Bismarck, its inventor all those years ago, would be a happy man to see his dream realised so fruitfully for patients, even if thousands of km away downunder.
Peter Arnold, whose tongue depressor was jammed firmly in his cheek while writing this, is a retired Sydney GP. He served as chairman of the Federal AMA for four years and, previously, President of the General Practitioners’ Society