General practitioner (family physician) workforce in Australia: comparing geographic data from surveys, a mailing list and medicare
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BMC Health Services Research 2013, 13:343 doi:10.1186/1472-6963-13-343Published: 3 September 2013
Good quality spatial data on Family Physicians or General Practitioners (GPs) are key to accurately measuring geographic access to primary health care. The validity of computed associations between health outcomes and measures of GP access such as GP density is contingent on geographical data quality. This is especially true in rural and remote areas, where GPs are often small in number and geographically dispersed. However, there has been limited effort in assessing the quality of nationally comprehensive, geographically explicit, GP datasets in Australia or elsewhere.
Our objective is to assess the extent of association or agreement between different spatially explicit nationwide GP workforce datasets in Australia. This is important since disagreement would imply differential relationships with primary healthcare relevant outcomes with different datasets. We also seek to enumerate these associations across categories of rurality or remoteness.
We compute correlations of GP headcounts and workload contributions between four different datasets at two different geographical scales, across varying levels of rurality and remoteness.
The datasets are in general agreement with each other at two different scales. Small numbers of absolute headcounts, with relatively larger fractions of locum GPs in rural areas cause unstable statistical estimates and divergences between datasets.
In the Australian context, many of the available geographic GP workforce datasets may be used for evaluating valid associations with health outcomes. However, caution must be exercised in interpreting associations between GP headcounts or workloads and outcomes in rural and remote areas. The methods used in these analyses may be replicated in other locales with multiple GP or physician datasets.