“Australians with chronic diseases will have their healthcare co-ordinated through just one GP or medical service under a new scheme to be announced today by the Turnbull government that aims to help patients stay out of hospital and manoeuvre an often complex system.”
As many as one-in-five Australians are living with two or more chronic health conditions and visit various specialists in different locations to receive treatment but the government wants to transform the patchwork regime into a kind of one-stop shop.
Sufferers of chronic disease would be able to nominate one GP practice as their so-called “home base” under the changes, where they would receive their multiple treatments.
Trials will be available to about 65,000 Australians in up to 200 medical practices before a national rollout.
The proposal will be taken to the Council of Australian Governments meeting tomorrow and Malcolm Turnbull will invite premiers and chief ministers to join the federal trial.
The Prime Minister and Health Minister Sussan Ley claimed their Healthier Medicare package was “one of the biggest health system reforms” since the introduction of Medicare 30 years ago.
“Seeing multiple GPs increases a patient’s risk of poor healthcare co-ordination and their likelihood of falling through the cracks and ending up in hospital,” they said in a statement.
“Half of all potentially avoidable hospital admissions in 2013-14 were attributed to chronic conditions. That is one every two to three minutes.”
The government will create a new body called Health Care Homes to run the trial and take responsibility for the ongoing co-ordination, management and support of a patient’s care.
Patients will pay a quarterly fee for their care instead of the current fee-for-service, according to the government.
The most prominent chronic diseases in Australia include diabetes, heart disease, cancer, mental health, eye disease, respiratory conditions and arthritis, bringing with them a host of specialists, nurses, pharmacists, physiotherapists, psychologists and dieticians.
“We want to reduce the barriers patients face across fragmented health services, with the aim of keeping them well at home and out of hospital,” the government said.
The announcement forms part of the government’s clinician and consumer-led review into the primary health care system, with an advisory group releasing its report today.
Data released by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) has found about half of all Australians have a chronic disease with 20 per cent suffering from at least two.
AMA President Professor Brian Owler said the data sent another strong message to the Government that significant new investment in primary care, especially general practice, is needed to equip the health system to meet Australia’s current and future community needs.
AIHW examined eight common chronic diseases: arthritis, asthma, back problems, cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and mental health conditions.
Nearly 40 per cent of Australians aged 45 and over have two or more of the eight chronic diseases examined.
AIHW spokesperson Louise York said that, for this age group, the two most common chronic diseases to occur in combination with any other chronic disease were arthritis and cardiovascular disease.
“When looking at particular combinations of diseases in this age group, we found that arthritis and cardiovascular disease occurred most frequently in 16 per cent of the population, followed by arthritis and back problems (10 per cent) and back problems and cardiovascular disease (8 per cent)
Among younger Australians (0-44 years), mental health conditions and back problems were the most common comorbidities, followed by mental health and asthma, and back problems and asthma.
Professor Owler said that the AIHW data highlights the significant burden of chronic disease, and said it is internationally recognised that a strong primary health care system is key to the future sustainability of any health system.
“The Government is talking a lot about the need to reform and improve primary care, but the talk is not being backed up with policy and action – policy and action that is needed right now,” Professor Owler said.
“There is an urgent need to provide greater funding to general practice so that hardworking GPs across Australia are supported in caring for their patients, many of whom are suffering from multiple chronic conditions.”
Minister for Health Sussan Ley said the AIHW data highlighted that reform is needed with Medicare benefits for chronic care soaring to $587 million, up almost 17 per cent in 2013-24 alone.
Ms Ley said that the Government is committed to finding better ways to care for people with chronic and complex conditions and ensure they receive the right care in the right place at the right time.
Shadow Health Minister Catherine King said the data vindicated the decision to make a greater focus on chronic disease care, which she said was in stark contrast to the Government, which has spent the past two years attacking primary health care through a ‘GP tax’.
The Primary Health Care Advisory Group, led by former AMA President Dr Steve Hambleton, released a discussion paper in early August outlining potential reforms to address the rising chronic disease care challenge.
He said increasing life expectancy meant more patients were presenting with multiple chronic and complex health complaints, and current arrangements were increasingly struggling to meet their care needs.
The Primary Health Care Advisory Group has just finished holding a series of public meetings and is due to present its final report to the Government by the end of the year.