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Neeltje van den Berg, Romy Heymann contributed equally to this work.
The authors declare that they have no competing interests.
NB, CM, SF, and WH participated in the design of the study. CM and RH participated in the acquisition of data. RH performed the modelling of the capacity of the AGnES-practice assistants. NB, RH and SB performed statistical analysis. All authors participated in the interpretation of the results. NB drafted the manuscript, all authors revised it critically. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.
The AGnES-concept (AGnES: GP-supporting, community-based, e-health-assisted, systemic intervention) was developed to support general practitioners (GPs) in undersupplied regions. The project aims to delegate GP-home visits to qualified AGnES-practice assistants, to increase the number of patients for whom medical care can be provided.
This paper focuses on the effect of delegating GP-home visits on the total number of patients treated. First, the theoretical number of additional patients treated by delegating home visits to AGnES-practice assistants was calculated. Second, actual changes in the number of patients in participating GP-practices were analyzed.
The calculation of the theoretical increase in the number of patients was based on project data, data which were provided by the Association of Statutory Health Insurance Physicians, or which came from the literature.
Setting of the project was an ambulatory healthcare centre in the rural county Oberspreewald-Lausitz in the Federal State of Brandenburg, which employed six GPs, four of which participated in the AGnES project. The analysis of changes in the number of patients in the participating GP-practices was based on the practices’ reimbursement data.
The calculated mean capacity of AGnES-practice assistants was 1376.5 home visits/year. GPs perform on average 1200 home visits/year. Since home visits with an urgent medical reason cannot be delegated, we included only half the capacity of the AGnES-practice assistants in the analysis (corresponding to a 20 hour-work week). Considering all parameters in the calculation model, 360.1 GP-working hours/year can be saved. These GP-hours could be used to treat 170 additional patients/quarter year. In the four participating GP-practices the number of patients increased on average by 133 patients/quarter year during the project period, which corresponds to 78% of the theoretically possible number of patients.
The empirical findings on the potential to increase the number of patients in GP-practices through delegation of tasks come close to the theoretical calculations. Differences between the calculated and the real values may be due to differences in the age and mortality distribution of the patients. The results indicate that a support system based on practice assistants can alleviate the consequences of GP-shortages in rural areas.