Do active GPs provide higher quality care?

GPs provide in excess of 300 million patient consultations every year, however, they are facing considerable challenges in today’s society.

In particular, shortages in the primary care workforce are making it increasingly difficult to meet rising patient needs. This makes it even more important to understand what characterises an effective GP service, and such an understanding could help to focus efforts to improve primary care where they are likely to be most effective.

Working with a team of healthcare experts, Frontier Economics was commissioned through The Health Foundation’s Efficiency Research Programme, to investigate how primary care variation affects quality of care. We examined the extent to which GP practices exhibit certain behaviours are better able to treat their patients and potentially reduce the cost of secondary care. The GP behaviours we examined included participation in Clinical Commissioning Group management, prescription behaviour, special GP training and use of new technologies. We refer to these behaviours as activeness measures. Our analysis helps develop an understanding of which types of practices provide high quality primary care, and whether policy action could help to encourage behaviours linked to better outcomes. Our analysis was based on data drawn from a wide range of sources, including secondary care usage data and GP practice prescription data collected by NHS Digital, as well as our own primary survey of GP practices in which we collected information from over 500 GP practices about their use of technology and GPSIs within the practice.

Our results highlighted the importance of GP practices continuing to evolve in order to best serve their patients, certain behaviours such as adherence to prescription guidelines and deploying new technology, can, in certain circumstances, lead to higher quality care and better patient outcomes. Our research revealed that the single biggest barrier to increased activeness was GPs inability to think strategically about long term quality improvement mechanisms due to the size of the day-to-day clinical workload. These pressures are likely to be especially severe for certain types of practices but operate to a certain extent across all practices. This serves to re-emphasise the importance of addressing current workforce shortages.

The work we have undertaken with The Health Foundation has helped to characterise GP performance in a much more complete manner to that which existing previously, and doing so has revealed that there are aspects of patient outcomes that, in some conditions, are improved by the engagement of GPs with up to-date practices – whether in areas of new technology, specific niches of clinical expertise or prescribing.

Frontier regularly works with public and private sector clients on issues related to healthcare. For more information, please contact or call +44 (0) 20 7031 7000.

Primary Care - Do active GPs provide higher quality care?