We highlight the increasing trend of Mental Health Issues in Australia and the role of GPs, new Price Reductions for some medicines and upgrades in Medical Imaging and My Health Record.
Increasing mental health issues
General Practitioners are often the first point of contact for people seeking help with a mental health issue. A steady increase in the rate of mental health consultations is suggesting more help from the GPs is needed.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ (ABS) 2017-2018’s National Health Survey, anxiety and depression continued to rise from the previous periods.
The survey reported the increased rates of mental illness in different areas. For 2017-18, around 13.1% of Australian population (3.2 million) suffered from an anxiety-related condition, this is an increase of approximately 11.2% since 2015. Among those, 10.4% were reported to have feelings of depression, which also increased by 2.3%.
Source: EY Sweeney, RACGP GP Survey, May 2019.
Also, roughly one in eight adults (13%) experienced high levels of psychological distress in 2017–18, which increased by 1.3% from 2015.
Furthermore, Mental health was at the top of the list for chronic conditions in 2017–18. It is estimated that 20.1% of Australians were having a mental or behavioural condition in 2017–18 (approximately 4.8 million people).
The health of the nation report published by the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) this year also supports findings with results that show mental health issues have replaced physical conditions as one of the most common GP consultations.
1174 college members were asked to respond to the question: “When thinking about your patients overall, what are the three most common ailments you deal with?”.
65% of the survey respondents said that psychological problems were one of the three most-common issues they managed, last year this was 62% of respondents. Musculoskeletal and Respiratory issues followed as the second and third most common health problems that GPs deal with.
Interestingly, depression, anxiety and mood disorders are more common now than coughs and colds in a lot of medical centres. And one of the key findings suggested that female doctors are far more likely to manage psychological-related health issues than male doctors.
There are severe implications to mental health issues. Victorian BetterHealth Channel reported up to 10% of people affected by mental health issues were risking self-harm. And this is not the only result of poor mental health problems, the National Survey of Mental Heath and Wellbeing estimated that a majority of people tend to experience issues and conditions from disorders for up to 12 months at a time.
The role of GPs
GPs can provide ongoing mental health care in different ways such as support, assessment, ongoing care and referrals to other mental health services if required. The patients’ needs, treatment and the referrals should also be recorded in their mental health care plans.
GPs assist to prepare a Mental Health Plan that helps patients with their overall treatment and support.
When a referral happens for psychological therapy with an appropriately qualified health professional, this may largely covered by Medicare. It is also important to note that while treating the mental health symptoms, the doctors need to ensure the physical health of a person with a mental illness is not neglected.
GPs are also encouraged to use e-mental health. Information on the internet and other related technologies can deliver timely and specific mental health information and services . The use of online interventions is one of the major applications of e-mental health and this can help immensely in the prevention stages.
Even though patients often turn to GPs for help with their mental conditions, more collaboration within the healthcare industry could better assist patients with urgent issues.
The Government has announced that new PBS listings for life-saving and life-changing medicines are released from October onwards, which may impact up to 500,000 Australians.
Price reductions for common scripts and new medicines have been added to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) including medicines to treat lung cancer, lymphoblastic and acute leukaemia, and nausea associated with chemotherapy.
A media release from the Minister of Health announced that around 500,000 Australians will have access to cheaper medicines beginning from October 1, with price reductions for common scripts and new medicines in some cases saving over $100,000 per patient.
Treatments for seizures or nerve pain and high cholesterol levels are also listed on the PBS.
The extended PBS listings from October onwards will include:
According to the Minister for Health Greg Hunt's interview with Sunrise, the new inclusions will help save over $100,000 each year for some patients. For example, Avastin, treating stage four lung cancer, would have cost $189,000 without this new inclusion. It will now help over 750 patients for far less than what it originally cost.
Apotex, medicine treating chemotherapy-induced nausea, will also benefit more than 7000 patients from the inclusion. Ezetimibe, for high cholesterol, and Pregabalin for nerve pain, are also among the common drugs listed that will see their prices largely decrease. Ezetimibe for example, will help over 300,000 Australians save up to $6 saving per script.
This could overall generate a difference to the cost of living, with up to $60 - $70 in savings a year.
And it can be seen as a great effort from the Government to make medicines more affordable in Australia. A report in 2017 by the Grattan Institute already found that Australian drugs can cost 3.7 times more than the global benchmark. Particularly, Australia’s prices remain almost twice those of the UK, and 3.1 times higher than New Zealand’s.
The Government is helping to reduce the price on 175 different medicines, with savings of up to $390 million across multiple areas and over 500,000 patients may benefit from them. This initiative shows the Government’s commitment that Australians can have access to affordable medicines when they need to.
Additionally, from 1 January 2020, pensioners and concession card holders will enjoy a lower threshold to receive free or discounted medicines. Their threshold will be reduced by 12 scripts and that of non-concession card holders will have the equivalent of 2 scripts.
Both public and private healthcare professionals can now see patients’ pathology and diagnostic imaging reports and test results on My Health Record.
This year the Digital Health of Australia reported that almost all public providers have already uploaded on My Health Record. The number of private providers is also increasing.
The Australian Digital Health Agency is continuously working with the rest of the healthcare providers across Australia to connect to the My Health Record system and increase the amount of information available with a My Health Record.
This is significant progress in connecting pathology and diagnostic imaging providers to the My Health Record. It is estimated that every week, over 850,000 diagnostic reports are being uploaded.
This means that more Australians have instant access to their results online. Patient’s pathology, diagnostic imaging reports and test results will also be grouped together and better support healthcare professionals in making faster, more informed and accurate clinical decisions.
Especially in complex situations when decisions about a patient’s health and treatment options need to be made, instant access to vital results and information will help.
There is a list of Diagnostic imaging and pathology providers who have already uploaded to My Health Record.
According to the release, currently there are more than 31 million clinical documents and 1.3 billion Medicare documents uploaded to My Health Record.
CIS applications implemented by the My Health Record Document List will be able to provide the Pathology and Diagnostic Imaging Overviews without additional support from its vendors. With patients having their My Health Record, diagnostic imaging reports will also be recorded instantly.
This new upgrade is an enhancement to the clinical workflow capabilities, which will not only enable healthcare providers to identify and group together relevant tests and results more easily but also to keep track of multiple tests, knowing the time the tests were conducted as well as monitoring patients’ conditions over time.
Professor Meredith Makeham, Chief Medical Adviser for the Australian Digital Health Agency, believed that the upgrade has helped them to have a quick snapshot of a patient’s test result history, which will eventually help them to provide the best possible healthcare to patients.
Patients have expressed the benefits of reports being uploaded to My Health Record. For example, a patient needing blood tests every three months may not have always had their reports shared to their GP or Hospital. With My Health Record, doctors will get these results and more in a quick overview of the Record.
To summarise, sharing of diagnostic imaging reports with My Health Record will positively support patient care through increasing access to information, by reducing unnecessary duplicate testing, and saving time in locating or requesting copies of results.
Patients will also benefit from being able to see, keep track of and monitor their own results over time in their My Health Record. What are your thoughts on this new upgrade for medical imaging? We would love to hear from you.
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