A Hamilton medical centre's controversial plan to pay patients to get them through the doors has been an enormous success, says its chief executive.
And now the centre is looking at other ways to ensure people visit their doctors more, including making it free for all children under six to get a flu jab and offering free cervical smear tests.
In 2010 the Radius Medical Group started offering patients $10 cash to undergo smear tests, vaccinations and B4 school checks at their Davies Corner clinic.
Originally a pilot project set to last six months, it was continued because of improvements in immunisation rates and was also extended across all their clinics.
They initially saw the immunisation rate for 2-year-olds jump from around 80 per cent to 96 per cent and cervical smear rates from around 40-50 per cent to 80 per cent.
The scheme has cost about $30,000 over the three years.
"So it's hardly any money," chief executive Dr Navin Rajan said.
But the fight is not over yet, with the Ministry of Health now wanting 95 per cent of 8-month-olds immunised. Currently Waikato DHB has the second lowest rate for immunisation of this age group, 82 per cent.
But Dr Rajan is confident they could get to 95 per cent. "Every quarter there's about 1500 children in the Waikato DHB area turning eight months. Our clinic sees 10 per cent of those, so that's about 144. So it's not a huge number."
Dr Rajan said they were able to offer free smears, vaccines and the $10 cashback because of Services to Improve Access (SIA) funding from the Government.
While all Public Health Organisations (PHO) got this funding, Radius chose to use theirs in a different way to other PHOs.
"We believe the money should go straight to services. When we get the SIA funding, instead of using it on a new building, we use it to give free consultations. We also don't charge any administration fees. We just have different priorities."
If there was an increased demand, instead of building a new practice, they simply worked longer hours.
Dr Rajan said the $10 cashback - as well as free cervical smears, immunisations and prescriptions - had had a substantial impact, especially for those accessing their free clinic at Kaute Medical Centre.
"Some of my patients can't even afford the $5 prescription, let alone the cost to see a doctor. What we are trying to do is remove the barriers."
He said most of his patients didn't avoid getting their children immunised on moral grounds, but because they had difficulties accessing healthcare because of cost or transport.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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