Research calls into question Australia's chronic disease care

Published 17 Mar 2016

Australia possesses one of the most sophisticated health care systems in the world, but a new report from the Grattan Institute has claimed more could be done to improve chronic disease outcomes.

The academic institution's research suggested poor primary care management of diseases such as asthma, diabetes and heart disease is costing the health service $320 million a year in unnecessary admissions.

In fact, the Chronic Failure in Primary Care report argued that just 25 per cent of people with Type 2 diabetes in the country have access to the appropriate monitoring and treatment they require.

Grattan Health Program Fellow Hal Swerissen estimated there are more than 250,000 avoidable hospital admissions every year. This is despite the federal government spending $1 billion on planning and executing chronic disease management policies.

"Our primary care system is not working anywhere near as well as it should because the way we pay for and organise services goes against what we know works," he explained.

"The role of GPs is vital, but the focus must move away from fee-for-service payments for one-off visits."

People who are concerned about the financial impact of developing chronic diseases can obtain critical illness insurance as coverage. These policies pay lump sums to those who are diagnosed with severe illnesses that may prevent them from working or performing other day-to-day tasks.

AMA rejects Grattan report

The Australian Medical Association (AMA) claimed the Grattan Institute research was an unfair and pessimistic portrayal of primary care in the country.

Specifically, the AMA said the institute was wrong to imply GPs could be at fault for perceived gaps in health care. The organisation also questioned some of the data used, adding that there was competing evidence.

"For example, hospital admission rates per 100,000 population for uncontrolled diabetes in Australia are among the best of the OECD countries at 7.5 - well under the UK at 23.9 and the OECD average of 50.3," said Chair of the AMA Council of General Practice Dr Brian Morton.

Furthermore, Dr Morton highlighted the fact that the Grattan report mentions within its own pages that data and research to effectively evaluate primary health care in Australia is lacking.

"The institute also admits that the evidence base for what works is still slim, so clearly its analysis and conclusions need to be treated with some caution," he added.

According to Dr Morton, the Australian government must do more to tackle chronic disease management, as it is a problem that places an increasing burden on the country's health services. Moreover, he urged ministers to increase the budget for general practices significantly in the next Budget.

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