Call and response
With the federal election looming, many of us are thinking about the state of our health system.
While it remains a point of pride for Australia and is arguably one of the best in the world, the past two years of the pandemic have exposed its inefficiencies and idiosyncrasies like never before.
Hospital wards and emergency departments are at capacity despite the fact that the peak of the pandemic is now behind us.
It is difficult to get an appointment with your GP and in Victoria the emergency services call centre is under review over worrying call wait times.
This all points to a system under strain.
It has served us well for decades, but the growing and changing population—one that is ageing and beset with numerous chronic health conditions—clearly calls for system-wide innovation.
In the 1970s physiotherapy became a first contact profession, meaning that a patient no longer needed a referral from their GP to see their physiotherapist.
It was a seminal change and signalled the system’s recognition of the inadequacies of the status quo, readiness to change and commitment to easing access to the right healthcare for patients.
It has been four decades since then and it’s time for the next change.
At present, a patient still needs the referral of a GP to have Medicare-funded physiotherapy care and this is limited to a handful of consultations.
Referral pathways for imaging are no less limiting and cumbersome.
The result is that a patient needs to take several inconvenient and arguably unnecessary steps, often at their own expense, to access the right care.
We know there is a better way.
The funded first contact physiotherapy model has worked successfully in the UK for several years, with patients reporting better outcomes and greater satisfaction using this model.
The benefits for the health system are clear—a more direct care model facilitates the elimination of unnecessary steps and costs.
It is time to explore the viability of this model in Australia.
The APA is currently working on potential pilots and studies with Australian universities to prove the efficacy and cost-efficiency of funded first contact physiotherapy care.
Initially, this model would explore the impact of a direct patient pathway to physiotherapy for musculoskeletal conditions.
If it is successful, we will push for an expansion of the model across the full physiotherapy scope of practice, including prenatal and postpartum care and preventive care.
We have spoken with the Minister for Health and Aged Care about the concept a number of times and are pleased to have his in-principle support.
We will work hard to secure the same from the next federal health minister, whoever that may be.
But this is long-haul stuff.
No change will happen overnight and, in fact, it may take many years for our efforts to bear fruit.
This is why the APA is here.
Where governments plan for three- or four-year cycles, we are committed to long-term advocacy for our profession.
However difficult it may be or however long it takes, if it’s valuable to physiotherapists and our patients, we will do our best to make it happen.
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