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J Health Serv Res Policy 9 Suppl 2:17-22.
Department of Public Health, Wellington School of Medicine and Health Sciences, Wellington, New Zealand
OBJECTIVE: To compare the characteristics of patients, their disease patterns, and the investigation and referral patterns in private community-governed not-for-profit and private for-profit primary care practices in New Zealand.
METHODS: Observational study using a representative survey of visits to general practitioners in New Zealand. Practices were categorised according to their ownership: private for-profit or private community-governed not-for-profit. Patient socio-demographic characteristics, treated prevalence and other characteristics of presenting problems, morbidity burden, numbers of investigations and referral patterns were compared.
RESULTS: Compared with for-profit practices, community-governed not-for-profit practices served a younger, largely non-European population, nearly three-quarters of whom had a means-tested benefit card (community services card), 10.5% of whom were not fluent in English, and the majority of whom lived in the 20% of areas ranked as the most deprived (by the NZDep2001 index of socio-economic deprivation). Patients visiting not-for-profit practices were diagnosed with more problems, including higher rates of asthma, diabetes and skin infections, but lower rates of chest infections. The duration of visits was also significantly longer. No differences were observed in the average number of laboratory tests ordered. The odds of specialist referral were higher in for-profit patients when confounding variables were controlled for.
CONCLUSIONS: Community-governed not-for-profit practices in New Zealand serve a poor, largely non-European population who present with somewhat different rates of various problems compared with patients at for-profit practices. The study highlights for communities, policy-makers and purchasers the importance of community-governed not-for-profit practices in meeting the needs of low-income and minority population groups.
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