Healthcare: ‘doctor Obsession’ To Lead To Cost Blowout

Tony Abbott

Australia is expected to have 2811 superfluous doctors by 2025, based on projections in a March 2012 report by the government body Health Workforce Australia. The figure assumes a modest 5 per cent increase in productivity in the healthcare system. Health lobby groups often said Australia would be short 2700 doctors by 2025, but the figure was misleading because it assumed no productivity gains would be made, Professor Brooks said. The boom in medical graduates would ”lead to a blowout in costs” with doctors already giving patients too many unnecessary procedures so they could earn a good living in Australia’s fee-for-service system, Professor Brooks said. At least $20 billion of ”low value” medical procedures were already being done every year in Australia, he said. If Mr Abbott wanted a ”sustainable” healthcare system, he should address these multibillion dollar structural healthcare problems rather than “fiddling around” with fees for GP visits, Professor Brooks said. The Medicare controversy kicked off at the weekend with reports of a submission to the government’s commission of audit from Mr Abbott’s former health adviser, Terry Barnes. Mr Barnes said the government would save $750 million over four years by forcing patients who are bulk-billed to pay $6 to visit their GP for each of the first 12 visits a year. A spokeswoman for Mr Abbott said on Wednesday the Coalition ”won’t be commenting on speculation around what the commission of audit may or may not recommend”. ”Labor spent a lot of money on creating huge health bureaucracies,” she said. ”The Coalition government is committed to directing more of that money back to delivering and improving frontline services for patients.” The debate over the $6 GP fee – which experts say will harm the poorest and sickest Australians – was obscuring a more important debate over healthcare costs, Professor Brooks said. Australian governments had become ”doctor obsessed”, ignoring evidence that many of the tasks performed by doctors could be given to other health professionals such as pharmacists, nurse practitioners and physician assistants.

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Australia needs physician assistants. So why aren’t we getting them?

If any of those groups or any other PA sceptics would like to contribute to the Croakey series, please get in touch. It would be good to hear your responses to the pro-PA arguments that have been made. Meanwhile, Professor Peter Brooks, director of the Australian Health Workforce Institute, explains below why he believes that Australia needs PAs. (Incidentally, he is also due to speak at at a University of Sydney seminar on May 3 titled Are we training too many doctors?.) Professional self-interest is blocking introducton of physician assistants Peter Brooks writes: Well done Croakey for running these stories on Physician Assistants (PAs). The opposition to the introduction of these health workers mirrors very much what happened in the US some 40 years ago. Strident cries from the American Medical Association that their introduction would end life as we know it. But interestingly it didnt! Why the nurses are so actively against it is interesting but one would have to ask all opposing groups are they interested in opposing for oppositions sake, are they interested in providing health services to patients who currently find it difficult to access them because the workforce is not there, or are they interested in preserving the status quo with siloed health professional practice? The health service and its constituent parts is a very complex organism but every part of it should work together to improve patient care and not work only in the interests of the health professional or have I got that wrong ? The health and social welfare workforce is currently the largest in Australia 1.4 million and like the rest of the population, it is ageing. We will need to recruit about half a million new workers at least to this sector over the next decade a significant challenge that policy makers and politicians do not seem to be fully accepting at present.

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