Most Australians visit a General Practitioner annually and are free to choose their General Practitioner and/or practice on each occasion. A proportion of people visit multiple general practices, which can reduce continuity of care, a core value of general practice. Utilisation of multiple general practices is associated with metropolitan residence and younger age. However, it is unclear which factors are associated with utilisation of multiple general practices in rural areas, where there are often General Practitioner workforce shortages and higher proportions of patients who may benefit from continuity of care such as older people or those with chronic disease. The aim of this study was to compare the characteristics of people in a rural Australian area who accessed multiple general practices in the previous year.
A cross-sectional survey assessed self-reported utilisation and perspective of general practice services, uses of multiple practices, associated reasons, lifestyle advice and screening services received in four regional Victorian towns. Households were randomly selected and residents aged 16 + were eligible to participate.
Compared with utilisation of a single general practice, multiple general practice attendance in the past year (14.3%) was associated with younger age (adjusted odds ratio (aOR 95% confidence interval) 0.98 per year (0.97–0.99), residence in the regional centre aOR 2.90(2.22–3.78), emergency department (ED) attendance in the last 12 months aOR 1.65(1.22–2.21) and no out of pocket costs aOR 1.36(1.04–1.79)). Reasons for multiple general practice attendance included availability of appointments, cost and access to specific services. Compared with multiple general practice attendance, those attending single practices reported more screening tests but similar frequency of lifestyle advice. People who accessed multiple practices were less likely to report very high satisfaction (51.7% vs 62.9% p < 0.001) or excellent degree of confidence in their doctor (42.0% vs 49.8% p = 0.006) than single practice attendees.
Those attending single practices report higher satisfaction and confidence in their GP and were less likely to attend ED. Further studies are required to test whether increasing availability of appointments and reducing out-of-pocket expenses would increase single practice attendance and/or decrease healthcare costs overall.