Thousands of Western Bay residents not enrolled with a GP are missing out on a raft of health services and paying a lot more when they visit a doctor, senior local health officials say.
Western Bay of Plenty Primary Health Organisation chief executive Roger Taylor said there were 155,500 patients enrolled with the PHO's general medical practices.
"However, there are increasing numbers of people who have moved into the area but are yet to enrol with any general practitioner.
"Research suggests it could be as many as 5000 people, and there are lots of downsides from not enrolling. It's most concerning for a raft of reasons," he said.
Mr Taylor said in the past couple of weeks the 2nd Avenue Accident and Health Care Centre and the Tauranga Hospital's emergency department had been "super busy".
People continued to "rock up" to Tauranga Hospital emergency department who could easily be treated by a GP, and a number were not enrolled with any medical practice.
Mr Taylor said the PHO's strategy was to ensure as many people as possible used general medical practices as their "primary healthcare home".
Many advantages flowed from being enrolled, he said.
"People get to know you and patients don't have to repeat their medical history time and time again.
"They also get access to a raft of other health services that non-enrolled patients don't," he said.
Research suggests it could be as many as 5000 people, and there are lots of downsides from not enrolling. It's most concerning for a raft of reasons.
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Mr Taylor said an increasing number of community-based services were available, which included skin surgery services, podiatry, dietary, nursing services, and physiotherapy services.
Another big advantage was reduced costs, he said.
"Casual walk-in patients, on average, pay double what heavily subsidised enrolled patients do."
Enrolled patients were more likely to seek medical treatment early, he said.
Mr Taylor said a number of existing general practices were enrolling patients.
New practices were also opening up, including at Golden Sands, Papamoa and in Pyes Pa.
Mr Taylor said the total cashflow for the Western Bay PHO was about $40 million a year, of which $22m was patient fee subsidies.
The more people enrolled, the more funds the PHO had to deliver even more services, he said.
"I would really encourage people to enrol for all the reasons I have outlined. It makes sense as there are no down sides in doing so," Mr Taylor.
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CentralMed Health manager Phillipa Fox said four out of five centres she managed were enrolling, including the Papamoa branch where three new GPs had recently come on board.
Papamoa Pines Medical Centre was also accepting more patients after taking on two more GPs.
Dr Joe Bourne, the Bay of Plenty District Health Board's general practice liaison, said there was no doubt some people were coming to the emergency department who could be treated by a GP.
Last year almost six per cent of the 51,037 patients who visited the emergency department had non-urgent conditions, and this year 7.4 per cent of all patients could have been treated by a GP.
Dr Bourne said at a busy hospital emergency department there was only the capacity to deal with a patient's immediate need, whereas general practitioners could offer a more holistic treatment plan.
"Our aim is promote the concept of a patient's primary health care home being a general practice, as they can tailor the treatment and makes it more appropriate for the patient.
"We're also trying to encourage people to better self-manage their primary healthcare needs.
"Research shows those patients who have built a long-term relationship with their GP and seek treatment early have better health outcomes," he said.
Counting the cases:
Patients visiting Tauranga Hospital emergency department and how many for non-urgent conditions:
* February 15-21, 2016: 981 - 7.1% non-urgent
* February 16-22, 2015: 1022 - 5.2% non-urgent
* January 1 to February 19, 2016: 7386 - 7.4% non-urgent
* January1 to February 19, 2015: 7102 - 6.8% non-urgent
* 2015: 51,037 patients - 5.9% non-urgent
* 2014: 48,441 patients - 5.9% non-urgent
Source: Bay of Plenty District Health Board