An over-represented number of people presenting at the Launceston General Hospital emergency department with non-urgent conditions live in the northern suburbs, research has found.
Who, when and why people access ED services with non-urgent conditions has been the focus of research by PhD student and Launceston General Hospital nurse Maria Unwin.
Based on analysis of 109,633 presentations by Launceston residents between July 2009 and June 2016, the research has identified a stark contrast in ED attendance between areas with a higher availability of general practices and those with less.
Data from 477 waiting room surveys also found 40 per cent of patients contacted an alternative health care provider before presenting to the ED, with 37 per cent perceiving they had a need for urgent medical attention.
Of those surveyed, 29 per cent said they were advised to present at the ED by a doctor or nurse, while cost was not a factor for 93 per cent.
The research also found that those aged under 25 had a disproportionately high attendance rate for non-urgent conditions, with a perceived need and convenience the most commonly cited reasons for choosing to attend ED with non-urgent complaints.
Ms Unwin said an over-representation of patients from the northern suburbs was occurring in the context of limited access to GP services, with those from the most disadvantaged areas up to four-times more likely to present at an ED.
"An analogy I have used is that the emergency department is like the canary in the coalmine for the greater health service and for the community," she said.
"In other words, what we see over-represented in EDs can be a sign of community needs."
Mowbray Medical and the Northern Suburbs Medical Service are the only two health practices servicing the northern suburbs - an area that makes up almost a third of Launceston's total population.
Based on her findings, Ms Unwin said equitable access to services across the City of Launceston could significantly reduce the number of ED presentations annually.
"Based on the results of our study, if such a service was established in Launceston's northern suburbs and included an inter-disciplinary approach with a particular focus on the treatment of minor injuries and mental health, which was targeted towards young adults and families with young children, it is possible that at least 2000 people per year would be treated by this service and not need to attend ED," she said.
Ms Unwin will present her findings at the Australian College of Nursing's national forum in Hobart on Thursday. More than 600 nurses from across Australia are expected to attend the event, which this year is exploring the theme: nursing now, the power of policy.
After working at the LGH for more than 25 years, Ms Unwin said she had seen first-hand the increasing demand hospitals were facing.
"That's led me to think, well how can we do it better. Because if it continues at this rate, future years are going to be very challenging," she said.
"Part of this research is about making sure the policy makers are aware of it - so gathering this information and feeding it up the chain.
"Because there are often a lot of really great ideas, but unless we know exactly what the causes are - if the solutions don't match the causes, then they are not the right solutions."