General practice IT research

General practice and research

The need for scientific research in general practice is a largely untold story. Around 83% of the Australian community visit a general practitioner each year.

How patients are treated in general practice must be based on sound research, often called evidence based medicine. Much of the evidence we require as general practitioners can only be obtained from general practice research that involves general practitioners and patients.

Common problems faced daily in general practice include:

  • diagnosing conditions as early as possible where potential treatment benefits are maximal
  • whether a patient will receive the best treatment in the community setting or in hospital managing treatments, including medications and lifestyle changes, and
  • balancing the treatments of multiple conditions.

In general practice these decisions are serious, as many common conditions require lifelong treatment, such as for high blood pressure, asthma, depression, diabetes and arthritis. Evidence based health care must cross professional and organisational boundaries and this includes general practice.

General practice and IT

Information technology within the general practice setting seeks to improve both the delivery of care and the quality of care. This is done by reducing consultation time, strengthening allied and tertiary health networks and improving practice business models that will afford GPs higher levels of remuneration.

While computer use has not been a traditional part of medical training, incorporating computer skills into medical training is the shape of things to come. As part of defining this shape, the RACGP curriculum1 now includes a statement on informatics.

“General practitioners require modern skills for the increasing pace and change in clinical practice. The Internet is increasingly used to manage information in general practice. Online tools can enhance the uptake of evidence based practice. As the profession faces information overload, general practitioners must equip themselves with the skill of information mastery,” said Dr Justin Tse, a Melbourne GP and Clinical Sub-Dean, at the Royal Melbourne Hospital Clinical School.

General practice and IT research

Over time, the perceived importance of IT in the general practice setting is changing. However, it is still often seen as a driver from a business sense and not necessarily an important part of ‘medicine’. “I’m a doctor,” someone said to me on the phone when talking about GPCG issues, “what the hell do computers have to do with me?!”

This is where the role of general practice and IT research need to further merge in order to help the paradigm shift.

Dr Tse received the RACGP Chris Silagy Research Scholarship and looked at online learning tools. “I really wanted to study two areas. One was general practice registrars’ attitudes and beliefs toward the internet and online tools for medical practice, and the impact of training on registrars – our future general practitioners – to see if there was an increase in the use of online tools in the general practice setting after specifically tailored intervention.

“Using a combination of qualitative and quantitative methods, the study demonstrated that registrars participating in training for the use of online tools found that the internet was a useful and reliable resource.” Unfortunately Dr Tse noted that barriers included infrastructure, skills and acceptance.

Hopefully future directions for general practice research involve further investigation of how to improve uptake, acceptance and harness IT. Change in general practice IT needs to be driven by those using the technology. After all, doctors have a hell of a lot to do with computers!

For more Information

Should you wish to access further information on potential funding for general practice IT research, please contact Gabrielle Douglas at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or visit the RACGP website at http://www.racgp.org.au/researchfoundation

Should you wish to access further information on Dr Tse’s research go to: Tse J. Evaluation of online and computer learning as tools for enhancing evidenced based practice. Available at http://www.racgp.org.au/researchfoundation/reports/8667

References

Curriculum for Australian general practice. Available at http://www.racgp.org.au/curriculum [Accessed on 1/2/2008].

Posted in Australian eHealth

You need to log in to post comments. If you don't have a Pulse+IT website account, click here to subscribe.

Sign up for Pulse+IT eNewsletters

Sign up for Pulse+IT website access

For more information, click here.