Will we see cost of living pressures impact health in 2023?
Today the Productivity Commission released a report that found nationally in 2021-22, 3.5 per cent of respondents who needed to see a GP reported that they delayed or did not see a GP in the last 12 months due to cost, an increase compared to 2020-21 (2.4 per cent).
In addition the report found nationally in 2021-22, 65.8 per cent of patients were fully bulk billed, a reversal of the upward trend over the previous nine years of reported data.
While last week, the Treasurer announced inflation rose by 7.8 per cent over the past year – the highest peak since 1990 – driven by pricier domestic holidays, international travel and higher electricity prices, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
At the same time the Reserve Bank lifted the official cash rate to a 10-year high of 3.1 per cent in December in its ongoing bid to dampen household spending and get inflation under control.
With higher interest rates adding to cost of living pressures and bulk billing becoming more out of reach, what impact could this have on patients seeking healthcare?
In 2021, MedicalDirector partnered with Tyro to survey more than 2,000 people about their healthcare habits. The report, Does Wealth Equal Access to Health, found:
- 40% of patients have delayed seeing their healthcare professional in the past year. Unaffordability was the top reason cited, with 45% of people saying their doctor did not bulk bill.
- 35% of patients felt that not accessing healthcare had a negative impact on their health – and this has manifested in a number of ways including worsening conditions, missed medications, delays in accessing specialist treatment, and having to take time off work.
- 46% said they would manage their healthcare differently if they had more money, while 39% said money was not a driving factor in their healthcare decisions.
These trends could result in more patients seek cheaper healthcare options, or delaying or forgoing necessary medical treatment, which could result in more severe health conditions, leading to more serious and costly medical issues in the future.
How can medical practices reduce costs?
There are several ways medical practices can reduce costs or avoid incurring rising costs, particularly through the adoption of technologies.
- Implementing an electronic health record (EHR) and practice management software can help reduce costs by streamlining administrative tasks and reducing errors.
- Cloud-based solutions: Migrating to a cloud-based electronic medical record and practice management solution can reduce the cost of IT infrastructure and provide more flexibility for staff.
- Patient engagement platforms to automate appointment bookings and streamline communications: Integrating with patient engagement platforms can not only improve patient engagement and self-management, but reduce the workload of administrative teams.
- Advanced analytics: Using advanced analytics tools can help practices to improve operational efficiency and reduce costs by providing insights into open appointments, non-attendance, patient wait times, as well as track consult volumes, bulk vs private billings and other trends to help you proactively manage your practice and maximise patient consultations.
It’s important to carefully evaluate the costs and benefits of adopting new technologies and choose those that align with the practice’s goals and objectives.
What role can medical practices play in affordability?
To ensure patients do not defer necessary medical care due to affordability issues, medical practices can increase transparency in healthcare pricing.
Greater transparency in healthcare pricing can help individuals better understand the cost of their medical care and make informed decisions.
Practices can also promote telehealth options to provide more accessible and affordable medical care to individuals, especially those in remote or rural areas, or for whom taking time off work or travel affordability is a barrier.
Affordable healthcare for all
Affordable healthcare can lead to:
- Improved health outcomes: Access to necessary medical care can help improve health outcomes and prevent potential health complications.
- Reduced healthcare costs: Early treatment of medical conditions can prevent more serious and costly medical issues in the future.
- Improved quality of life: Access to necessary medical care can help improve individuals’ quality of life and overall well-being.
- Enhanced economic productivity: Improved health outcomes can result in increased economic productivity as individuals are able to work and participate in society more effectively.
Cost of living pressures in 2023 will likely have a significant impact on healthcare, making it important for policymakers to find solutions that ensure access to affordable and quality medical care for all.
The upcoming release of the Australian Government’s Strengthening Medicare Taskforce recommendations is predicted to have a significant impact on the future of healthcare in Australia, potentially shaping the accessibility and affordability of medical services for individuals and the overall healthcare system.