Out-of-hours primary care. Implications of organisation on costs

Caro J T van Uden, Andre J H A Ament, Gemma B W E Voss, Geertjan Wesseling, Ron A G Winkens, Onno C P van Schayck, Harry F J M Crebolder
BMC Family Practice 2006, 7: 29

BACKGROUND: To perform out-of-hours primary care, Dutch general practitioners (GPs) have organised themselves in large-scale GP cooperatives. Roughly, two models of out-of-hours care can be distinguished; GP cooperatives working separate from the hospital emergency department (ED) and GP cooperatives integrated with the hospital ED. Research has shown differences in care utilisation between these two models; a significant shift in the integrated model from utilisation of ED care to primary care. These differences may have implications on costs, however, until now this has not been investigated. This study was performed to provide insight in costs of these two different models of out-of-hours care.

METHODS: Annual reports of two GP cooperatives (one separate from and one integrated with a hospital emergency department) in 2003 were analysed on costs and use of out-of-hours care. Costs were calculated per capita. Comparisons were made between the two cooperatives. In addition, a comparison was made between the costs of the hospital ED of the integrated model before and after the set up of the GP cooperative were analysed.

RESULTS: Costs per capita of the GP cooperative in the integrated model were slightly higher than in the separate model (epsilon 11.47 and epsilon 10.54 respectively). Differences were mainly caused by personnel and other costs, including transportation, interest, cleaning, computers and overhead. Despite a significant reduction in patients utilising ED care as a result of the introduction of the GP cooperative integrated within the ED, the costs of the ED remained the same.

CONCLUSION: The study results show that the costs of primary care appear to be more dependent on the size of the population the cooperative covers than on the way the GP cooperative is organised, i.e. separated versus integrated. In addition, despite the substantial reduction of patients, locating the GP cooperative at the same site as the ED was found to have little effect on costs of the ED. Sharing more facilities and personnel between the ED and the GP cooperative may improve cost-efficiency.

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