GP perspectives on a psychiatry phone line in Western Australia's Great Southern region: implications for addressing rural GP workload

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BACKGROUND: Mental illness is a public health challenge disproportionately affecting rural Australians. GPs provide most of the mental health care, and they report increasing levels of burnout and unsustainable workload in the context of increased patient complexity. This may be more salient in rural settings characterised by resource constraints. In this paper, we use evaluation data from a GP psychiatry phone line established in Western Australia's Great Southern region in 2021 to describe GPs' perspectives on the service and reflect on how it may help alleviate rural GP workload.

METHODS: The sample was recruited among GPs practicing in the region. Data were collected through an online survey and semistructured interviews. Descriptive statistics were used to analyse the survey data. Interview data were subjected to thematic analysis; qualitative survey data were used for triangulation.

RESULTS: A total of 45GPs completed the survey and 14 were interviewed. Interview data yielded three themes: the criticality of timeliness; the building blocks of confidence; and trust. GPs were highly satisfied with the service, and timeliness and trust were the characteristics underpinning its effectiveness. The service built GPs' confidence in managing mental health and alcohol and other drug use issues through strengthening knowledge and providing reassurance.

CONCLUSIONS: Our results suggest that a telephone line operated by trusted, local psychiatrists with knowledge of the local mental health ecosystem of support can reduce rural GP workload through building confidence and strengthening personal agency, helping GPs navigate the ethical and clinical labyrinth of managing patient complexity in rural settings.

Original languageEnglish
JournalAustralian Journal of Primary Health
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 25 Sept 2023

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