Atlas of healthcare variation welcomed

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The Australian Private Hospitals Association (APHA) has welcomed a major report examining the differences in health care use, according to where people live in Australia.

The third Australian Atlas of Healthcare Variation has found wide disparities in the use of some health treatments and investigations, revealing some potentially adverse outcomes for older Australians and the youngest members of our community.

APHA’s CEO, Michael Roff, said the report was a vital piece of information.

“The Atlas provides health care organisations with an overview of the health services provided to Australians at a national level,” he said.

The Atlas, produced by the Commission in partnership with the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, investigates healthcare use in four clinical areas – paediatric and neonatal health; cardiac tests; thyroid investigations and treatments; and gastrointestinal investigations and treatments.

It also examines national patterns in medicines use over time for four common groups of medicines – antipsychotics; opioids; antimicrobials; and medications for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

The Commission’s clinical director, Professor Anne Duggan, said wide variations in health care use by area, could be a sign that some people are missing out on the healthcare they need.

“Previous Atlases have identified unwarranted variations in care, prompting changes to the delivery of common medical procedures, including knee surgery and colonoscopy,” she said.

“The data and recommendations in this Atlas will be used by clinicians, consumers, policy makers and researchers across Australia to deliver equally important improvements in health care.”

Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Jonathon Morris, said the Atlas highlighted a concern for young Australians around the high rate of antibiotic dispensing, suggesting that antibiotics were frequently prescribed inappropriately.

“The Atlas found high rates of antibiotic dispensing for children aged 0 to nine years – equivalent to one prescription annually for every child,” Professor Morris said.

“Research links antibiotic use to changes in a child’s normal gut bacteria and an increased risk of a number of conditions in later years, including asthma and Crohn’s disease.”

Professor Duggan said the rates of gastroscopy and colonoscopy also varied widely, with some indications that at least one of those procedures was being substantially overused.

And an overuse of prescribing antipsychotic medicines to Australians aged 65 and over had also been identified as a problem.

Professor Duggan added there were also many areas of Australia where health care could be improved.

“As a doctor, I am always concerned when it seems that there is an underuse of important investigations or treatments by people who could benefit greatly from their use,” she said.

“For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and people in regional and rural Australia, this is unfortunately true for many of the procedures investigated in this year’s Atlas.

“These communities continue to require a stronger focus,” she said.

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