Donegal study into GP home visits

Patients are much less likely to get a home visit from their family doctor than in the past and rates vary widely between GP practices, according to a new study.

It found that some practices had nine times the rate of home visits as others, particularly if they had older patients.

The findings are based on a study of 12 GP rural practices in Donegal, which was published in the 'Irish Medical Journal'.

The two month study was carried out by two doctors attched to the Donegal Specialist Training Programme at Letterkenny General Hospital, and covered 12 practices with have a combined patient population of almost 25,000.

A general decline in home visits has been noted, with factors like age, sex and social class having an influence. Women, the elderly and the more socially deprived are more likely to ask for a home visit.

The authors pointed out that home visits are important to the elderly and housebound, but can also be a valuable tool in primary care, allowing GPs to get useful insights into patient's living conditions.

Ireland's average home-visiting rate of 143 per 1,000 patients compares favourably with countries like Australia.

The authors pointed out that the study was confined to a relatively small number of calls over a short timeframe, within a rural setting and without taking into account seasonal variations or out-of-hours workload.