As part of the Government’s commitment to delivering high quality health care, supported by a sustainable and effective universal Medicare system, the Minister for Health, Sussan Ley, announced a number of key reform processes in 2015.
The Primary Health Care Advisory Group was established in July 2015 as part of this process, to investigate reform options for primary health care, with a specific focus on complex and chronic illness and mental health conditions.
Made up of primary health care professionals from a number of fields, including GPs, allied health practitioners, pharmacists and consumer representatives, the Group is led by Dr Steve Hambleton, a practicing GP and former president of the Australian Medical Association.
“While the Minister is undertaking a range of projects to improve Medicare, the Primary Health Care Advisory Group is focusing on chronic and complex disease in the primary health care setting,” Dr Hambleton said.
“We’ve been asked to look at things like innovative care and funding models, and have done this by consulting people at the front line of care.”
Since its establishment, the Group has undertaken a list of broad community consultations across Australia, including 16 public meetings, 31 stakeholder consultations, 15 sector briefings, and a national webcast, which involved over 500 participants.
“On 12 August we distributed a discussion paper looking at a number of themes and asking what models of care the Group should be looking at—including those that were working in Australia and overseas, and those that weren’t,” Dr Hambleton said.
“We also asked for feedback about the increased use of technology and how that would fit into future models of care to achieve better outcomes.
“With 1000 surveys returned from over 250 organisations and hundreds of individuals across the country, we had a great response from the primary health care sector.”
The outcomes of the consultation are now being collated, and are already revealing a number of key themes.
“There’s been an enormous amount of support for the ‘health care home’ model, which is really a formalisation of something that has existed in Australia for some time—the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners recently came out with a discussion paper supporting this process, which reflects the views of many of our survey respondents,” he said.
“Pleasingly, there has also been very strong support for reporting and measuring patient health outcomes. All of the high performing systems of care that we identified through the consultation involved reflection and feedback on patient outcomes to enable system improvements, so we’re considering that closely for our recommendations.
“The fee for service structure in Australia for people with chronic and complex diseases appears to be at odds with what most people see as a good model of care—so we will also have to come up with a payment structure to better support that model which should facilitate the delivery of better outcomes.”
The Advisory Group will submit their recommendations to the Australian Government toward the end of the year, outlining short, medium and long-term recommendations.
“The last thing we want is for our recommendations to lead to one-off changes, we need a system that can be developed and improved over time,” Dr Hambleton said.
“Most people realise that we need to improve the situation we’ve found ourselves in, and while we recognise that there are pockets of excellence despite our current structure, a better system of care underpinned by a supportive funding model should allow those pockets to flourish and lead to better health care for all.”