Feature Article April 2016

Tapping the potential of allied health

Cooee April 2016 Allied Health Podiatry v2

Allied health professionals such as podiatrists, physiotherapists and dietitians play a key role in the treatment and prevention of chronic disease, a fact that is being increasingly recognised as Australia grapples with the rising costs of hospital care.

This has particular relevance in rural and remote Australia where there are higher levels of conditions such as diabetes, osteoarthritis and cardiovascular disease.

A recent report by Services for Australian Rural and Remote Allied Health (SARRAH) suggests lack of access to allied health professionals in rural areas could be costing the health system as much as $175 million annually for eight specific outcomes relating to diabetes, osteoarthritis and stroke.

SARRAH pointed to success stories like the Queensland Diabetic Foot Innovation Project, which led to a reduction of 64 per cent in lower limb amputations as a result of early intervention by multi-disciplinary allied health teams.

Meanwhile, rural doctors are calling for nurses and allied health professionals to be trained as generalists to tackle the inequalities in health outcomes for rural and remote people.

The president of the Rural Doctors Association of Australia, Dr Ewen McPhee, says there is an opportunity to take lessons from the generalist program for doctors and apply them to the shortage of nurses and allied health professionals in rural areas.

“Do we want hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of neurosurgeons or do we want people to be able to access the appropriate care, the right people at the right time?”

Dr McPhee is a member of the Federal Government’s Primary Health Care Advisory Group which has been investigating options for the reform of primary health care to support patients with chronic and complex illness, and the treatment of mental health conditions.

The group’s report was released on 31 March. Central to its recommendations is the implementation of a Health Care Home model for patients with chronic and complex conditions. This would lead to better coordination of comprehensive, team-based care on an ongoing basis.

In response, the Federal Government has released a new primary care package to be trialled through Health Care Homes. About 65,000 Australians will participate in initial two-year trials in up to 200 medical practices from 1 July 2017.

Groups such as the Consumers Health Forum have welcomed the report’s recommendations and the emphasis given to them by the Federal Government.

“It is an ambitious step the Government is taking to reform the way primary care has been delivered, traditionally largely by GPs but often with little support to ensure patients get the overall care they need from other health professionals like nurses, physiotherapists, psychologists, podiatrists and others who are training to provide the right care for people with complex conditions," the CEO of the Consumers Health Forum, Leanne Wells, said.

Further reading: Patient-focused multi-d team care