We highlight some updates regarding the increasing trend of mental health problems among Australian population and the role of GPs, new Price Reduction for some medicines and upgrades on Medical Imaging and My Health Record.
Increasing mental health issues
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ (ABS) 2017-2018’s National Health Survey, anxiety and depression continue to rise from the last period 2014-2015.
The survey reported the increased rates of mental illness in several areas. Specifically, in 2017-18, around 13.1% of Australian population (3.2 million) suffered from an anxiety-related condition, an increase from 11.2% in 2014-15. Among them, 10.4% are reported to have depression or feelings of depression, which has increased by 2.3% from the last period.
Source: EY Sweeney, RACGP GP Survey, May 2019.
Around one in eight adults (13%) experienced high or very high levels of psychological distress in 2017–18, which climbed up 1.3% from 2014–15.
Mental health was also at the top of the list of chronic conditions in 2017–18. It is estimated that 20.1% of the total Australian population are having a mental or behavioural condition in 2017–18 (around 4.8 million people).
65% of the total survey respondents said that psychological problems were one of the three most-common ailments they managed, a rise from 62% last year. Musculoskeletal and respiratory issues followed psychological conditions as the second and third most common health problems that GPs deal with.
There are several implications to the poor mental health issue. The most severe of all would be its association with suicidality.Victorian BetterHealth Channel reported up to 10% of people affected by mental illness would seek to kill themselves. Suicide is, therefore, a leading cause of death for people seriously affected by mental illness.
Even though suicide is not only the result of poor mental health problem, the National Survey of Mental Heath and Wellbeing estimated that of all the 368,100 people who reported to having suicidal ideation (having serious thoughts about committing suicide) in the last 12 months before the interview, almost 72% had a 12-month mental disorder.
The role of GPs
GPs can provide ongoing mental health care in several different ways: support, assessment, ongoing care and referrals to psychologists, psychiatrists and other mental health services if required. The patients’ healthcare needs, goals, treatment and referrals will also be recorded in their mental health care plan.
In most situations, GPs will be the primary point of contact for patients, assisting them by making a health assessment and prepare a Mental Health Plan to help the patient with their treatment and overall support.
This may be followed by a referral for psychological therapy from an appropriately qualified health professional, which may be largely covered by Medicare. A doctor can also provide ongoing treatment for the patients, which require them to have completed certain training to specialise in this area. While treating their mental health symptoms, the doctors would make sure that the physical health of a person with a mental illness is not neglected.
GPs are also encouraged to use e-mental health in mental health care. This means that GPs would use the internet and related technologies to deliver mental health information, services and care. The use of online interventions for the prevention and treatment of mental illness is one of the major applications of e-mental health.
Cheaper medicine is on the way with price reductions for common scripts and new medicines added to the PBS including medicines to treat lung cancer, lymphoblastic and acute leukaemia, and nausea associated with chemotherapy.
Just last week, 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 added to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS), in some cases saving over $100,000 per patient.
The extended PBS listings from October onwards include:
According to the Minister for Health Greg Hunt in an interview with Sunrise, the new inclusions will help save over $100,000 each year for some patients. Avastin, a breakthrough new medicine to treat stage four lung cancer, would have cost $189,000 without the subsidy. It will now help over 750 patients for only $6.50. More than 7000 patients will get access to a new medicine called Apotex for nausea from chemotherapy.
This can be seen as a great effort from the Government to make medicines more affordable to Australian. A report in 2017 by Grattan Institute found that Australian drugs in general 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 also reducing the price on 175 different medicines, savings of up to $390 million which will be across areas such as high cholesterol, or extreme pain and over 500,000 patients will benefit from them.
This initiative has shown Government’s commitment to ensuring that Australians can have access to affordable medicines when needed. Additionally, from 1 January 2020, pensioners and concession card holders will enjoy a lower threshold to receive free or discounted medicines. Pensioners and concession card holders’ threshold will be reduced by 12 scripts and that of non-concession card holders will have the reduction equivalent of 2 scripts.
A new media release on 30 September 2019 from Australian Digital Health Agency stated that both public and private health care professionals can now see patients’ pathology and diagnostic imaging reports as well as test results on My Health Record.
Just last week, a new media release from Digital Health of Australia reported that almost all public providers have already uploaded on My Health Record. The number of private providers registration and upload is also increasing.
The Australian Digital Health Agency is continuously working with the rest of the healthcare provider organisations across Australia to connect healthcare professionals to the My Health Record system and increase the amount of information available to consumers with a My Health Record.
This is seen as a 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.
Visit here for the list of Diagnostic imaging and pathology providers having 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.
This means that more Australians can have instant access to their diagnostic test results online. Patient’s pathology and diagnostic imaging reports and test results will also be grouped together to better support healthcare professionals in making more informed, faster and more accurate clinical decisions.
Especially in complex situations when health care providers have to make decisions about a patient’s health and treatment options, instant access to important test results and information will certainly be advantageous.
The Australian Journal of Pharmacy’s new article have seen this new upgrade as 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 test was conducted as well as monitoring patients’ health condition 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.
In summary, sharing diagnostic imaging reports with the My Health Record will support the patient care through increasing access to information, reduction of unnecessary duplicate testing, saving time in locating or requesting copies of results.
Patients will also benefit from being able to see, keep track of and monitor their results over time in their My Health Record.
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