Easy Entry model 'could' dramatically improve rural healthcare

08 September, 2014

An innovative healthcare model designed to attract and retain medical professionals in small country towns has had a huge show of support from a key health lobby group.

Already in operation in various regional NSW townships, including Wentworth and Dareton, it involves adopting a 'walk-in, walk-out' approach, enabling GPs to work as clinicians without needing them to become small business owners and managers.

"The Easy Entry, Gracious Exit model has the potential to improve access to quality health care in small rural and remote towns that are experiencing a chronic shortage of medical professionals," AMA President A/Prof Brian Owler said in a recent statement.

"A third party, such as a community or not-for-profit entity, would provide the general practice facilities, including infrastructure and staff, such as a practice manager and a practice nurse.

"The doctor would pay a service fee to the managing entity.

"There is also the option for Visiting Medical Officer (VMO) rights and contracts to be negotiated on behalf of the doctor."

More streamlined practice structure

A/Prof Owler said: "This model removes many of the obstacles that prevent doctors from establishing or maintaining a country practice for the long term.

"It allows them to stick to their core business – looking after patients.

"The key objective is to ensure the continuity of the practice or practice management structure, rather than the continuity of the individual doctor.

"By removing many of the financial barriers to recruitment, this model will more easily attract doctors to small rural and remote towns.

"Once the doctors arrive in these towns they often find that, while free to leave at any time, the support, financial arrangements, and the interesting medicine is so attractive that they readily remain for a reasonable period.

"The evidence shows that it is working (in townships).

"It has been very successful in expanding and improving the stability of the general practice workforce in the towns involved, achieving an average doctor retention rate of five years, and reducing hospital inpatient and outpatient presentations."

Addressing gradual decline in essential services

A/Prof Brian Owler said small country towns across Australia have for decades seen the gradual loss of important services like banks, schools, hospitals, retail stores, post offices, government agencies, and the local family GP.

"Many of these basic services are taken for granted in our cities and larger regional centres," he said.