Martin CM, Peterson C, Robinson R, Sturmberg JP
Asia Pac Fam Med 2009;8(1):1
BACKGROUND: Chronic disease is a major global challenge. However, chronic illness and its care, when intruding into everyday life, has received less attention in Asia Pacific countries, including Australia, who are in the process of transitioning to chronic disease orientated health systems.
AIM: The study aims to examine experiences of chronic illness before and after the introduction of Australian Medicare incentives for longer consultations and structured health assessments in general practice.
METHODS: Self-help groups around the conditions of diabetes, epilepsy, asthma and cancer identified key informants to participate in 4 disease specific focus groups. Audio taped transcripts of the focus groups were coded using grounded theory methodology. Key themes and lesser themes identified using a process of saturation until the study questions on needs and experiences of care were addressed. Thematic comparisons were made across the 2002/3 and 1992/3 focus groups.
FINDINGS: At times of chronic illness, there was need to find and then ensure access to 'the right GP'. The 'right GP or specialist' committed to an in-depth relationship of trust, personal rapport and understanding together with clinical and therapeutic competence. The 'right GP', the main specialist, the community nurse and the pharmacist were key providers, whose success depended on interprofessional communication. The need to trust and rely on care providers was balanced by the need for self-efficacy 'to be in control of disease and treatment' and 'to be your own case manager'. Changes in Medicare appeared to have little penetration into everyday perceptions of chronic illness burden or time and quality of GP care. Inequity of health system support for different disease groupings emerged. Diabetes, asthma and certain cancers, like breast cancer, had greater support, despite common experiences of disease burden, and a need for research and support programs.
CONCLUSION: Core themes around chronic illness experience and care needs remained consistent over the 10 year period. Reforms did not appear to alleviate the burden of chronic illness across disease groups, yet some were more privileged than others. Thus in the future, chronic care reforms should build from greater understanding of the needs of people with chronic illness.