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Original Research

Rural Mental Health Units - Is there a role for a GP?

Submitted: 19 February 2006
Revised: 21 August 2006
Published: 15 December 2006

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Author(s) : Porche KL, Margolis SA.

Kay PorcheStephen Margolis

Citation: Porche KL, Margolis SA.  Rural Mental Health Units - Is there a role for a GP? Rural and Remote Health 6: 566. (Online) 2006. Available: http://www.rrh.org.au

ABSTRACT

Introduction: Mental illness is a common medical condition which is increasing in frequency. In Australia, almost one in five persons have experienced an anxiety, depressive or substance abuse disorder in the last 12 months, but less than half have sought professional assistance. In rural and remote areas, there is limited access to psychiatrists, and the majority of mental health care resides with the GP. This study aimed to ascertain the opinions of GPs in rural and remote areas of Queensland on the concept of locating a GP within in a mental health unit.
Methods: Participants were all general practitioners listed on the databases of the Rural Divisions of General Practice covering RRMA 5-7 in Queensland, Australia, excluding those who could potentially refer patients to the mental health unit where the principal investigator worked. A specially designed questionnaire was forwarded to eligible GPs in a series of three mailings.
Results: In total, 145 GPs returned the questionnaire, giving a 69% response rate. The majority of GP respondents believed that there was a significant number of patients with mental illness who would benefit from the contribution of a GP, and that locating a GP within a mental health unit was a viable option, especially for enhancing continuity of care and consequently overall health. The majority of respondents said they felt confident in treating mental illness, especially those with higher mental health caseloads and those with a professional college fellowship. However, there were varying inclinations towards working in such a unit, with no definite preferred method of remuneration identified.
Conclusions: Rural and remote GPs in Queensland believe there is a case for placing a GP within established mental health units, subject to addressing logistic and remuneration issues, as they believe this would enhance continuity of care and improve overall health for those with mental health problems.

Keywords: general practitioner, mental health, primary health care.

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