Picture: 123RF/SAMSONOVS
Picture: 123RF/SAMSONOVS

It is ironic that in a time when healthcare is most needed and is demonstrating its immense value in the fight against Covid-19, many GPs are reportedly seeing a drop in patient numbers that threatens the livelihood of their practices.

GPs have an important role in supporting the psychosocial well-being of society. Apart from health screenings for cancer or diabetes, GPs are often the first to detect mental health issues and substance use disorders.

They also provide an immense — and often underappreciated —  health education service to patients that has value far beyond the patient’s immediate health concern. Doctors empower their patients to address unhealthy lifestyle habits today, to prevent the development of more serious health problems in the future.

Our people need doctors, and evidently many of our GPs are in crying need of a sustainable income from patients too. We need creative models for funding private primary healthcare to fulfill the need in society and avoid losing doctors.

A fresh approach outside the traditional medical scheme or healthcare insurance models is needed. An employment benefit model, whereby employers subscribe to the services of a network of GPs for a nominal monthly admin fee and are only charged for a consultation when the need arises, provides a practical alternative — costing on average less than an employee’s Unemployment Insurance Fund contribution.

Broadening access to private primary healthcare for employees and their families, while keeping the doors of doctors in private practice open, is achievable to the mutual benefit and satisfaction of all.

There is no time to be lost. Now is the time to strengthen access to primary healthcare while supporting doctors to help stabilise a healthcare system and a country that is being profoundly shaken by this pandemic.

Dr Reinder Nauta
National HealthCare Group

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