General practices' perspectives on Medicare Locals' performance are critical lessons for the success of Primary Health Networks

Australas Med J. 2015 Oct 31;8(10):320-4. doi: 10.4066/AMJ.2015.2508. eCollection 2015.


Background: Under a health reform after two decades, Primary Health Organisations (PHOs) in Australia were changed from Divisions of General Practice (DGP) to Medicare Locals (MLs). Following a review of Medicare Locals, in July 2015 Primary Health Networks (PHNs) replaced Medical Locals to potentially improve outcomes through supporting primary care and enhancing integration.

Aims: The aim of this paper was to gather front-line staff's perspectives on MLs and identify any lessons applicable to PHNs.

Methods: A national purposive sample of 22 high-performing general practices representing all Australian states and territories was selected for semi-structured, face-to-face interviews, and a thematic analysis conducted.

Results: Fifty-three interviews were conducted: participants comprised 19 general practitioners (GPs), 18 practice managers (PMs), 15 practices nurses (PNs), and one community pharmacist. Most participants reflected on the difference between the DGP and MLs. Themes that emerged included ambiguity, community needs, professional development and education, communication and support, duplication in services and ignoring existing ones, recruitment and retention, and engagement and involvement.

Conclusion: Those MLs that did well continued in an expanded way the work DGP were doing beforehand and made a seamless transition. PHNs will need to build on the strengths of previous PHOs, and create locality structures and processes that maximise the potential for clinical engagement. They will actively guide the dialogue between related microsystems: to achieve this they will have to be clinically led, change management organisations.

Keywords: Australia; Primary health care; family practice; general practice; health services needs and demand; healthcare reform.