Arthritis costs the Australian economy $23.9 billion annually, and is the major cause of chronic pain and disability in Australia. However, patients living remotely and those with mobility issues cannot access Medicare or private health insurance rebates for video consultation with their physiotherapist, despite growing evidence that digital health treatment options are effective. On World Arthritis Day, Friday 12 October, the Australian Physiotherapy Association (APA) is calling for increased treatment access for sufferers.
Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common chronic joint disease, and one of the leading causes of pain and disability in Australia. It is estimated that nearly three million, or one in eight, Australians are affected by the condition1. Unsurprisingly, OA is a leading cause of early retirement, with half of sufferers aged between 45 and 64 not currently in the workforce2.
The disease burden on individuals, families and the health system is enormous, yet APA member and Working Group Chair of the National Osteoarthritis Strategy Project Group, Professor Kim Bennell, says that the care many consumers receive within the health system is often both fragmented and inappropriate.
“The reality is that people with these conditions often suffer chronic, persistent pain which impacts their mental health, their ability to work and socialise, and can lead to overuse of pain killers. If these conditions are not identified and treated promptly, they can become substantially more disabling over time.”
“Osteoarthritis treatment and education should be evidence-based and tailored to the individual. Proper physiotherapy treatment can reduce adverse health and productivity costs as long as patients have access to appropriate treatment.”
Research has shown that digital health solutions like video consultation are viable options for providing physiotherapy treatment3, and may help improve access to, and uptake of, this evidence-based, non-surgical care as well as support ongoing self-management.
However video consultations between patients and their physiotherapists are currently yet to attract a fee rebate via the MBS and private health insurance. The current requirement for face-to-face consultation with a physiotherapist can act as a barrier to ongoing care for some consumers, particularly those who live remotely and/or have significant mobility issues, as well as those who have competing care priorities, such as parenting, which take precedence over travelling to treatment.
APA National President Phil Calvert says the health system needs to offer better value by providing a range of treatment options which are proven to be effective. “The health system needs to align with the evidence, and we are seeing more and more credible data that shows digital health options work, and increasingly more Australians are requesting it as part of their health treatment plans.”
Professor Bennell says “While there is no cure for arthritis, physiotherapy treatment offers consumers management techniques which can make life easier. Further, the evidence-base for video consultations is rapidly expanding, and should be part of the overall solution for managing this debilitating condition.”
“With OA expected to double to 25 per cent of the population by 2040 as a result of ageing and the obesity epidemic, it’s really important that our health system offers options that support consumer management and education in a variety of ways.”
Phil Calvert and Professor Kim Bennell are available for further comment or interview.
1Knox, S.A., Harrison, C.M., Britt. H.C., Henderson, J.V. (2008). Estimating prevalence of common chronic morbidities in Australia. Med.J.Aust, 189(2): p. 66-70.
2Arthritis Australia. (2014). Time to Move: Osteoarthritis. A national strategy to reduce a costly burden.
3Foley & Lardner LLP. (2014). Telemedicine Survey Executive Summary. Executive Summary November 2014. Chicago. USA. https://www.foley.com/files/Publication/0585f5b1-1205-4be7-be5a-4e14602a4fac/Presentation/PublicationAttachment/39c25a9b-5ff1-4ee8-b861-4ea2d71718ae/2014%20Telemedicine%20Survey%20Executive%20Summary.pdf
The National Osteoarthritis Strategy Draft for Consultation (September 2018) can be found here.
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