Filling the 'black hole' in health care information

A new program of national data collection in general practice, to be launched on Thursday by the Minister for Health and Family Services, Dr Michael Wooldridge, is expected to fill the 'black hole' in health data.

The program, called BEACH (Bettering the Evaluation And Care of Health), is being undertaken by a newly-established Unit at the University of Sydney in collaboration with the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. The Program concentrates on collecting information about why people visit their GP, the health problems that GPs manage, and what types of treatments general practice patients receive.

General practice is often referred to as the 'black hole' in health data. Every year about 85% of Australians visit a GP. So there are over 100 million GP consultations per year costing more than 2.5 billion dollars a year. Then there are other costs which result from our visits to the GP, such as drug prescriptions, tests and investigations, and specialist visits. These add up to more than 7 billion dollars. Yet we know very little about the sorts of problems the money's being spent on.

The BEACH program is supported by a consortium of organisations representing government and industry including the Commonwealth Department of Health and Family Services, Astra Pharmaceuticals, the Department of Veterans' Affairs, Roche Products and the National Occupational Health and Safety Commission. The program's Advisory Board includes the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners and the Australian Medical Association, the Consumers' Health Forum and the Divisions of General Practice.

General practitioners play a very important role in the provision of health care to the vast majority of Australians. The Director of the new unit, Dr Helena Britt, said "We are delighted that the BEACH program is being supported by such a wide range of stakeholders. It demonstrates the common need of government, industry, researchers and the profession of general practice for quality information about the primary care provided by GPs to the Australian population.

"I believe the support for BEACH demonstrates increasing recognition of the important role GPs play in caring for our health. Their role is changing as they become more involved in our post-hospital care and take more responsibility for coordinating the care given to their patients by other health care providers. This program will help us understand more about current general practice."

The media are invited to the launch at Burwood Health Care, 400 Burwood Highway (Cnr Burwood and Middleborough Roads), Burwood, Vic. at 10.30am on Thursday 19 March. (Parking is available opposite in Safeways car park off Middleborough Road.)


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