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It’s fairly well known that GP salaries in Australia are lower than other specialists, and this was confirmed with the latest MABEL study. There are around 8 specialist groups in particular that receive a median hourly rate that is double what GPs receive, such as dermatologists, anaesthetists and radiologists.

When a patient goes to see a GP (and with bulk billing rates sitting around 86%) they generally expect not to pay any gap fees. At the same time the patient has probably spent $40 or more for the week on coffees and a nice serve of smashed avocado on toast over the weekend. They may have had their nails done (another $50) or their car professionally cleaned. But when it comes to their health (which most people value) their perception is they shouldn’t spend anything, and the government should provide the service for free.

Meanwhile the government appears to have no intention of significantly increasing the rebate for standard GP consultants. When you consider the Medicare freeze, and recent commentary on the increasing Medicare spend on primary care, it seems unlikely that they will do anything to increase GP earnings.

If GPs really want to increase their earnings so they are more closely aligned with other specialties they need to address the perception problem, and find ways to add more value to patients – so they can charge more.

Perception is a difficult thing to change, it takes time and often needs to be tackled on a number of fronts. Here are a few ways it could possibly be tackled – all of these are from a patients point of view, but I am certain clinicians would have further ideas. Its also worth noting some of these are small things that individual GPs can address, and others need to be addressed collectively due to their scale.

Without further ado, here are some tips on how general physician jobs in Australia can become more lucrative for GPs. 

  • Patients want to find information online from a trusted source about medical issues, the hunt for information online has been going for over a decade now, even the NHS has site for ‘common health questions’ which ranks well, and provide good general advice. While it appears that groups like the RACGP have invested a lot in national advertising campaigns, I have not seen them or others invest in such online resources. This is something corporate groups could invest in, so they can add more value to their patients.
  • People are more engaged with health issues than ever – mostly due to the level of obesity around us, however their interests aren’t being met by primary care providers. Instead we have seen dramatic growth in weight loss products and programs. How they are treated by their GP hasn’t changed, but their access to information about health and use of wearable devices has changed drastically. If primary care providers can find ways to engage more with patients on these fronts, the patients will value the services more and be more willing to pay.
  • Running on time, or finding a way to communicate with patients when running late – it might sound basic, but this can be a particularly bad part of the patient experience.
  • Seek to build a long term relationship with patients from the beginning, try to find out a just a little more about their medical history or check their weight and blood pressure. While their isn’t a lot of time in a consultation, spending a few minutes on things like this might makes a difference to the patient and therefore means they are more willing to open their wallets.

Over the last 15 years almost every industry has been disrupted by technology, and in every industry traditional providers have had to ask, ‘how can we add more value to our customers’. Its happens every day in our business, things change and we have to adapt, as difficult as it is.
The development of online bookings is one of the few technological advancements (to my knowledge) that has improved the patient experience, and even that is a very small change. What else can be done to engage with patients and add more value? Some GPs may not consider patients to be customers, but without this perspective advancements won’t be made that allow GPs to charge more.

You may view these comments and ask why should GPs have to do all this when other specialists don’t? And while it’s a fair question, it shouldn’t be the focus. If GPs want to increase their earnings, then patients need to be convinced of the benefit of paying $50+ for consult instead of getting it for free.