As Australia enters a new phase of its COVID-19 journey, governments have an increasing opportunity to engage in a two-way conversation with GPs; not only about the virus itself but also about ensuring their patients don’t ignore their general health during the pandemic. 

GPs are generally satisfied with the COVID-19 information they have received up to now, according to a survey of AusDoc.PLUS readers1. But a big gripe is that different information sources tend to contradict each other, and it is challenging to keep up with the rapidly changing health scenario. 

Overall, they say, the states and territories are doing a better communications job than the Federal Government.  

However, many feel that decision-makers should make more effort to listen to their ideas and concerns. “There are no questions asked of coalface GPs,” said a doctor. “No opportunity for suggestions or feedback,” complained another. 

The survey shows they want the government to communicate – to provide them with a single source of truth and to listen to their views. For example, the Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Professor Michael Kidd, could host a weekly question and answer session amplified via the internet to the thousands of GPs who engage with the Australian medical media every day. GPs are also likely to welcome a weekly letter from the Chief Medical Offer that directly addresses their reality. 

“The ADG survey shows us that the 29,000 GPs who read our titles want a single source of truth in an easy-to-understand format,” says Bryn McGeever, Managing Director at Australian Doctor Group. 

“There is a real opportunity for governments to reach out to GPs and add value to their lives with well-crafted, thoughtful messaging.” 

With the satisfaction level for government communication close to 55%, governments can ensure GPs feel heard by reaching out to them for feedback via social media or through independent medical publishers who can ask GPs for their feedback and recommendations quickly.  

The respondents expressed a need for information specifically relevant to primary care and to their state or territory.   

“It is so confusing keeping track of what information is coming from where,” wrote one respondent, who complained that they found out about the new telehealth item numbers from Facebook. 

Other respondents said the Federal Government was not communicating directly with health professionals.  

“I have to search online or watch the news to see their messages,” commented a doctor. 

Another wrote: “There seems to be some disconnect between what we see in the community versus what is being recommended at a government level.” 

On the flip side, most respondents appreciated the overall effort to keep them informed under trying circumstances. 

Doctors in the ACT are most satisfied overall, with all respondents scoring the territory and Federal Government communication as good or extremely good. Tasmania is also doing well, with no respondents expressing dissatisfaction. 

Doctors in South Australia are the least satisfied. Four out of 10 ranked the Federal Government’s communication as poor or extremely poor, and 20% are also unhappy with state communication. 

So where does that leave GPs? Like the rest of us, their lives have been turned upside down by COVID-19. The survey shows they are keen to listen and crying out to be heard. It’s an open invitation for the Federal Government to step in and fill the gap. 

Clifford Fram, former Editor in Chief of Australian Doctor Group.

1. Source: Australian Doctor Group (ADG) survey, ‘Quality of Support and Information Availability for GPs during COVID-19’, April 2020. n = 193.