Cost impact of high staff turnover on primary care in remote Australia

Yuejen Zhao, Deborah J. Russell, Steven Guthridge, Mark Ramjan, Michael P. Jones, John S. Humphreys, John Wakerman

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Objectives: The aim of this study was to estimate the costs of providing primary care and quantify the cost impact of high staff turnover in Northern Territory (NT) remote communities. Methods: This cost impact assessment used administrative data from NT Department of Health datasets, including the government accounting system and personnel information and payroll systems between 2004 and 2015, and the primary care information system from 2007 to 2015. Data related to 54 government-managed clinics providing primary care for approximately 27 200 Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people. Main outcome measures were average costs per consultation and per capita, cost differentials by clinic, year and levels of staff turnover. Linear regression and dominance analysis were used to assess the effect of staff turnover on primary care costs, after adjusting for remoteness and weighting analysis by service population. Both current and constant prices were used. Results: On average, in constant prices, there was a nearly 10% annual increase in remote clinic expenditure between 2004 and 2015 and an almost 15% annual increase in consultation numbers since 2007. In real terms, the average costs per consultation decreased markedly from A$273 in 2007 to A$197 in 2015, a figure still well above the Medicare bulk-billing rate. The cost differentials between clinics were proportional to staff turnover and remoteness (both P < 0.001). A 10% higher annual turnover rate pertains to an A$6.12 increase in costs per consultation. Conclusions: High staff turnover exacerbates the already high costs of providing primary care in remote areas, costing approximately A$50 extra per consultation. This equates to an extra A$400 000 per clinic per year on average, or A$21 million annually for the NT government. Over time, sustained investments in developing a more stable primary care workforce should not only improve primary care in remote areas, but also reduce the costs of excessive turnover and overall service delivery costs.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)689-695
Number of pages7
JournalAustralian Health Review
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2019


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