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Celebrating 21 years of AGPAL

This article is taken from ‘AGPAL Celebrating 21 Years: supporting general practices and Aboriginal medical services across Australia’ published in 2018.

Australian General Practice Accreditation Limited (AGPAL), accreditation and the general practice sector have together come a long way during the past in 21 years. Great advances in safety and improvements in the service delivery, standards and overall quality of care within practices and Aboriginal Medical Services across the nation has contributed to improved healthcare outcomes for all Australians.

With a remarkable expansion of professional opportunities for both clinical practitioners and practice managers, the healthcare sector is barely recognisable from that of the mid-to-late 1990s.

Rewind to 1996, following the launch of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) Standards for general practices (first edition) accreditation was on the scene and AGPAL appeared in 1997 – both new and important components of the changing primary healthcare sector.

Reactions to the new national accreditation initiative were mixed, with many general practitioners and practice managers outspoken in their opposition to the accreditation framework.

AGPAL's first logo    Image of Australian General Practice Accreditation Limited (AGPAL) logo 2020 lg

The original AGPAL logo, previous AGPAL logo and new AGPAL logo introduced in 2020.

However, there were more than 100 proactive practice teams who were unreserved in their voluntarily participating in an accreditation trial. Fast forward to 2018, and we are proud to share the accreditation success story. There are now more than 4,500 accreditation registered practices with AGPAL, from metro, rural and remote areas representing every state and territory of Australia.

Some of these practice teams are at the start of their accreditation journey, undertaking their first cycle of accreditation, and many more entering their sixth, seventh and eighth accreditation cycles. These practices have continuous quality improvement at the core of their operation and are a great testament to their commitment to patients and the process of accreditation.

As practices improve with each accreditation cycle, so do the RACGP Standards with the development and implementation of each new version. Now in their 5th edition, the RACGP Standards have systematically evolved to reflect the changing operations, systems, processes and goals of practice teams. This ensures the quality of care, safety and service provided to patients across Australia continues to increase and benchmarks continue to rise to appropriately reflect and challenge the sector.

Our delivery of accreditation would not be possible without our contingent of hardworking AGPAL Surveyors who between them have been to every corner of Australia, providing comprehensive support and guidance to practices along the way. Our AGPAL Surveyors play an extremely valuable role in the provision of accreditation and continuous quality improvement. Remarkably, some surveyors have been with AGPAL since our first recruitment intake in 1998, with many nearing 1,000 AGPAL on-site accreditation surveys!

When AGPAL Surveyor teams attend a practice to undertake on-site accreditation assessments against the RACGP Standards, we know that at times practice teams can find this a daunting process.

1999 AGPAL Staff photo

The AGPAL Team, 1999

Over the years, AGPAL has been able to further appreciate, understand and therefore better support clients through the process of accreditation by ‘taking a walk in our clients’ shoes’— we too are accredited by the International Society for Quality in Healthcare (ISQua). With a team of international surveyors who remain on-site conducting the AGPAL assessment over a five-day period, our team, just like our clients engages in a rigorous process of an independent review to reflect on and identify opportunities to improve. This provides us with an insight into how practice teams may feel when preparing for their accreditation, thus reminding us to provide personalised support and improve our resources and education offerings.

Beyond our accreditation work and commitment to practice quality improvement, during the past two decades, AGPAL has also made important contributions to major health reforms and observed the progressive increase in quality across the primary health care sector. The AGPAL Board was successful in its goal of lobbying the Federal Government to ensure incentive payments were linked to the award of accreditation in 2002, which has resulted in the evolution of the current Practice Incentives Program (PIP); a significant benefit to practices that is still in place today.

Of all the changes and achievements across the sector during the past 21 years, it is perhaps the advent and evolution of technology that has most dramatically altered how healthcare services operate in Australia and across the world.

For AGPAL this has meant gone are the days of handwriting report notes and hours spent in the binding room or filing in the compactus or constant visits to the post office. Nor are there giant maps on the wall with labels showing surveyors’ destinations and locations.

In a move that revolutionised the accreditation process, we launched our custom-built online self-assessment tool, AccreditationPro on 1 July 2006 to enable practices, surveyors and staff to prepare for accreditation electronically.

AccreditationPro streamlined the accreditation process by reducing the amount of paperwork— saving practices time and making accreditation preparation a more simplified process. In the spirit of continuous quality improvement, AGPAL continues to upgrade and evolve AccreditationPro to meet the needs of practice teams and address the changing requirements of the Standards.

In 2017, we extended client access to useful and practical resources by establishing an ‘accreditation hub’ to enable practices to view and manage the process in one central online location. Each client’s accreditation hub is tailored to their timelines and framework requirements and includes an array of functionality, information, and education resources as well as AccreditationPro.

The AGPAL Group of Companies Staff, 2017

While AGPAL, accreditation and the general practice sector have all taken significant steps and achieved positive growth during the past 21 years, the quality journey is far from over. The landscape of Australian healthcare and accreditation is continually evolving and AGPAL is committed to evolving alongside it.

We recognise that there have been significant achievements and many more highlights shared by practice teams during this time and we thank you all for the contributions you have made to improving healthcare and outcomes for members of Australian communities.

This progress has only occurred due to the many contributors across the sector and AGPAL would not be where we are today without you—our clients, surveyors, member organisations, board chairs, directors and staff who have all played a key role in supporting and shaping general practice accreditation within Australia.

By taking the time to reflect on the years and accomplishments that have been, we look forward to what the future has in store. As you read through the following pages of our 21st birthday celebration booklet we hope you enjoy the experiences, stories and memories generously shared by some of our member organisations, staff, surveyors and clients—representing those groups who have played a vital role in supporting us to reach this significant milestone.

AGPAL will continue to deliver the highest standard for professional accreditation service and support. We thank you all for your continued support and look forward to working to working together as we advance further into the 21st century.