Food for thought on chronic disease

As Australia grows older and fatter, chronic disease has become one of the greatest health challenges facing this country.

Consider the following:

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  • Chronic disease is the nation’s leading cause of illness, disability and death.
  • More than 7 million Australians are affected by chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes.
  • 2 million Australians are at high risk of developing Type 2 diabetes – complications of which can include heart attack, stroke, kidney disease and blindness.
  • There were 285,000 potentially avoidable hospitalisations from chronic conditions in 2013-14.
  • Australians living in rural and remote areas experience a higher prevalence of chronic disease than their urban counterparts.

Given the nature of chronic disease, it is clear that a variety of health professionals need to be involved in prevention, diagnosis and treatment. This includes dietitians, GPs, nurses, dentists, exercise physiologists and podiatrists.

Other factors such as access to fresh food have also been highlighted.  For example, a recent study published in the Medical Journal of Australia found that areas with higher rates of Type 2 diabetes have fewer healthy food options for the people who live there.

So what is being done about this situation at a policy level?

The Parliament of Australia Standing Committee on Health recently established an inquiry into Chronic Disease Prevention and Management in Primary Health Care.

This inquiry is specifically examining:

  • Examples of best practice
  • The Medicare payment system
  • The role of Primary Health Networks, private health insurers, State and Territory Governments
  • Innovative models of care and prevention
  • Multidisciplinary teams in primary health and hospitals.

It is hoped that moves towards more effective management of chronic disease will open up opportunities for:

  • Community-based, multi-disciplinary, patient-centred care
  • The use of new technology
  • New funding models (for example, outcomes-based funding)
  • Increased emphasis on prevention
  • Improving coordination of care
  • Reducing expensive preventable/ avoidable hospitalisations.

Find out more

How can Australia improve its primary health care system to better deal with chronic disease?

Better outcomes for people with chronic and complex health conditions through primary health care: Discussion paper.

Parliament of Australia Standing Committee on Health inquiry into chronic disease prevention and management in primary health care – Terms of Reference.

Department of Health submission to Standing Committee on Health inquiry into chronic disease prevention and management in primary health care. Submission 134.

National Rural Health Alliance submission to Standing Committee on Health inquiry into chronic disease prevention and management in primary health care.