Primary care sustainability: Opportunity to hear from world leader

Morgan Liotta

10/10/2022 2:43:42 PM

At GP22, Denmark’s Professor Jens Søndergaard will discuss how his country reduced its reliance on hospitals by investing in primary care.

Crowd at presentation
The opening plenary session at GP22 will explore the Danish healthcare system and how Australia can learn from its success.

What can Australia learn from another country’s successful healthcare system?
From the end of the 20th Century, over a period of about 20 years, Denmark closed more than 65 hospitals in an effort to reduce healthcare costs.
But while the country’s hospital numbers reduced by more than two-thirds, that did not mean people’s care was neglected. Instead, money that was once spent on hospitals was instead invested into primary care, with the end result being improved outcomes for both patients and healthcare providers.
So how did they do it?
Professor Jens Søndergaard from Southern Denmark University will attempt to explain the transition away from an overreliance on hospitals at GP22 on Friday 25 November, in a plenary session called ‘General practice and primary healthcare in Denmark: History, status and future’.
In it, Professor Søndergaard will discuss the Danish primary healthcare model, how it is funded and why it works.
‘General practice is the cornerstone of Danish primary healthcare, and studies have shown a very high degree of patient satisfaction,’ Professor Søndergaard said in a recent RACGP member newsletter.
‘GPs in Demark are responsible for treating the vast majority of patients with chronic diseases.
‘Our GPs deliver a high degree of quality, and patients, hospital staff and general practices are satisfied with GPs’ strengthened role.’
The presentation’s learning outcomes will include an overview of the key features of a strong general practice system, and the political history behind what it took to develop such a system in Denmark, and the challenges and opportunities for the future of general practice.
GP22 Advisory Group Chair Dr Anita Muñoz told newsGP the session will offer invaluable insights into effective models of healthcare and how they might be applied in Australia.
‘Extensive evidence indicates that investment in primary care improves patient outcomes, reduces inefficiency in health and creates a sustainable healthcare system,’ she said.
‘At the foundations of this evidence is the power of general practice and community-based care.
‘GP22 will explore this very notion in three plenary sessions that celebrate the power of generalism and investment in general practice as the way to build tomorrow’s health system.
‘Our first plenary session will speak to irrefutable international evidence regarding what’s possible in a country that invests heavily and strategically in general practice.’

According to Professor Søndergaard, a strength of the Danish system is its ability to adapt flexibly to new challenges. Adopting digital health models and funding systems that strengthen general practice care has also help to reduce the reliance on hospital care.
Danish GPs are ‘the gatekeeper and first-line provider’, where a referral from a GP is required for most office-based specialists and always for in- and outpatient hospital treatment, operating as a mixed capitation and fee-for-service system.
‘The Danish regions finance postgraduate education for GPs, quality assurance initiatives and the research units for general practice,’ Professor Søndergaard said.
‘Studies have shown a very high degree of patient satisfaction and it has been decided that the GPs are responsible for treating the vast majority of patients with chronic diseases, as the hospital physicians are consultants for the GPs.
‘The GPs deliver high-quality [care] and … patients, hospital staff and general practices are satisfied with the GPs’ strengthened role.’
In the RACGP’s recent Health of the Nation preview webinar, RACGP President Adjunct Professor Karen Price referred to Denmark as ‘a powerful example’ of a country Australia can learn from in regard to health funding priorities.
‘We know the example of Denmark is that by investing in primary care you start to be able to close or significantly reduce the cost of hospital [care],’ Professor Price said.

‘So whether or not the government can afford it, they can’t afford not to. That is a really important point that we need to remember.’

Registration for GP22 is now open, and the full program is available on the website.
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