Difficulties in healthcare access for people with disability

Amanda Lyons

7/12/2017 11:24:42 AM

An Australian Institute of Health and Welfare report released earlier this week shines a light on the difficulties Australians with disability can face in accessing healthcare.

The AIHW found 93% of people with disability under 65 visited a GP in 2015.
The AIHW found 93% of people with disability under 65 visited a GP in 2015.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) report, Access to health services by Australians with disability, suggests that while the majority of Australians with disability tend to use services provided by GPs, medical specialists and hospital emergency departments more often than people without disability, they also experience more significant barriers in access.
For example, Australians with disability were found to be three times more likely to delay seeing or not see a specialist because of cost, while two in five had difficulty physically accessing medical facilities and one in six experienced discrimination by health staff.
According to Associate Professor Robert Davis, Chair of the RACGP’s Disability Specific Interests network, the fact patients with disability may also experience economic disadvantage can compound existing barriers.
‘Some of these access barriers are a result of over-representation in our lower socioeconomic population,’ he told newsGP. ‘The cost of services and reliance on limited access to bulk-billing practices, community health services and public hospitals means that access to affordable health services is decreasing.
‘With the freezing of the Medicare rebate to GPs, this can only get worse.’
Patients with disability may also experience difficulties in access due to the way healthcare is currently administered.
‘As some patients may have chronic health problems associated with their disability that require multidisciplinary care, they need a coordinated approach involving hospital and primary healthcare,’ Associate Professor Davis said. ‘Unfortunately, the current Medicare model and the divide between state and Commonwealth responsibilities has not been conducive to this.’
The National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) has been designed to support people with disability in Australia and can provide assistance with some aspects of access, such as transport, community support and communication. However, Associate Professor Davis believes other aspects of accessibility for patients with disability, such as physical access to clinics and consult rooms, are matters for federal funding.
‘For example, it is reasonable to expect that all patients with mobility problems should have access to hydraulic examination couches and hoists, but in my view this should come out of the health budget,’ he said.
Associate Professor Davis would also like to see an increase in GPs with specific training in disability care, an idea that seems supported by the AIHW report, with 93% of patients with disability under the age of 65 visiting a GP in 2015.
‘With the increasing demand, there is a need to develop expertise [in disability] within the profession and to facilitate access to clinics with a multidisciplinary capacity,’ he said.

AIHW disability-care National-Disability-Insurance-Scheme NDIS

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