A script of penicillin, antidepressants or opioid drugs is the most common reason for Australians to visit their GP, according to a national report.
Worryingly, a “very high proportion” of unnecessary antibiotic prescriptions (60 per cent) were written for conditions such as upper respiratory tract and urinary tract infections, the General Practices Insights Report 2016-17, published by the federal Department of Health and non-profit NPS MedicineWise, also found.
The antibiotic Cefalexin was regularly used for urinary tract infections, and skin or soft-tissue infections, although it is not recommended as a first-line treatment for these conditions, the authors wrote.
Antibiotic resistance is one of the biggest threats to human health, and Australia has the eighth highest antibiotic use out of 29 countries evaluated by the OECD.
In 2015, more than 30 million antibiotic prescriptions were dispensed – with almost half the Australian population (10.7 million people) receiving a prescription for at least one antibiotic.
NPS MedicineWise chief executive Steve Morris said the report’s insights were already being used to help GPs to improve patients’ health outcomes.
“More than two million people visit GPs every week across Australia, with GPs providing high quality and accessible services for Australians,” Mr Morris told The New Daily.
“With most people receiving most of their care in general practice, it is important to understand what is happening in general practice to ensure preventive and primary care remain strong pillars of the Australian health system.”
After prescriptions, the most frequent reasons for GP visits were for a review or follow-up of existing health conditions, and for upper respiratory tract infections.
Almost half (42 per cent) of patients also had at least one pathology test result recorded, the analysis found.
Top five chronic conditions
The most frequent reasons patients with chronic conditions visited their GP were for high blood pressure, depression, high cholesterol, anxiety and asthma.
Both high blood pressure and depression also come in first and second when compared to other data sources such as the Bettering the Evaluation and Care of Health reports.
According to data collected for the Australian Bureau of Statistics National Health Survey (2014-15), arthritis and high blood pressure were among the most reported health problems.
Across all age groups, females were more likely to have a depression record than males. Women aged 40-59 had the highest rate of depression, according to the analysis.
However, the highest rate of GP prescribing for antidepressants was in women aged 80-89, with on average of 2.2 prescriptions per patient.
Women were also more likely to have a record of anxiety compared with males in all age groups – particularly women in their 20s.
Anxiety is the most common mental health condition in the country, affecting about two million Australians.
Professor Nigel Stocks of the University of Adelaide said this type of report and its data were critical to improving patient outcomes.
“This insightful report will help GPs to understand the health of their practice population and to provide the best possible care to patients,” Professor Stocks said.
Dr John Aloizos, a Brisbane GP familiar with NPS MedicineWise and the MedicineInsight program, said “the report shows how the analysis of quality data from GP practices provides insight and helps me focus on the best possible care to my patients”.
The General Practice Insights Report was compiled by analysing de-identified data from 2.1 million patients who attended 475 general practices across Australia between 2016 and 2017.