In Australia, government-subsidised access to high-cost medicines is "targeted" to particular sub-sets of patients under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme to achieve cost-effective use. In order to determine how this access system could be improved, the opinions of key stakeholders on access to biological agents for rheumatoid arthritis were explored.
Thirty-six semi-structured interviews were conducted with persons from relevant stakeholder groups. These were transcribed verbatim, and analysed thematically.
Controlled access to expensive medicines was considered to be equitable and practical; however, there was disagreement as to the method of defining the target patient populations. Other concerns included timeliness of access, excessive bureaucracy, and the need for additional resources to facilitate the scheme. Collaboration between stakeholders was deemed important because it allows more equitable distribution of limited resources. The majority considered that stakeholder consultation should have been broader. Most wanted increased transparency of the decision-making process, ongoing and timely review of access criteria, and an increased provision of information for patients. More structured communication between stakeholders was proposed.
The Pharmaceutical Benefit Scheme is adapting to meet the changing needs of patients. Provision of subsidised access to high-cost medicines in a manner that is affordable for individuals and society, and that is equitable and efficiently managed is challenging. The views of stakeholders on targeted access to anti-rheumatic biological medicines in Australia acknowledged this challenge and provided a number of suggestions for modifications. These could serve as a basis to inform the debate on how to change the processes and policies so as to improve the scheme.
The addition of the chemical fluorine to the water supply, called water fluoridation, reduces dental caries by making teeth more resistant to demineralisation and more likely to remineralise when initially decayed. This process has been implemented in more than 30 countries around the world, is cost-effective and has been shown to be efficacious in preventing decay across a person's lifespan. However, attempts to expand this major public health achievement in line with Australia's National Oral Health Plan 2004–2013 are almost universally met with considerable resistance from opponents of water fluoridation, who engage in coordinated campaigns to portray water fluoridation as ineffective and highly dangerous.
Water fluoridation opponents employ multiple techniques to try and undermine the scientifically established effectiveness of water fluoridation. The materials they use are often based on Internet resources or published books that present a highly misleading picture of water fluoridation. These materials are used to sway public and political opinion to the detriment of public health. Despite an extensive body of literature, both studies and results within studies are often selectively reported, giving a biased portrayal of water fluoridation effectiveness. Positive findings are downplayed or trivialised and the population implications of these findings misinterpreted. Ecological comparisons are sometimes used to support spurious conclusions. Opponents of water fluoridation frequently repeat that water fluoridation is associated with adverse health effects and studies are selectively picked from the extensive literature to convey only claimed adverse findings related to water fluoridation. Techniques such as "the big lie" and innuendo are used to associate water fluoridation with health and environmental disasters, without factual support. Half-truths are presented, fallacious statements reiterated, and attempts are made to bamboozle the public with a large list of claims and quotes often with little scientific basis. Ultimately, attempts are made to discredit and slander scientists and various health organisations that support water fluoridation.
Water fluoridation is an important public health initiative that has been found to be safe and effective. Nonetheless, the implementation of water fluoridation is still regularly interrupted by a relatively small group of individuals who use misinformation and rhetoric to induce doubts in the minds of the public and government officials. It is important that public health officials are aware of these tactics so that they can better counter their negative effect.
We investigated the ways in which research evidence about the health effects from secondhand smoke (SHS) and smokefree policies was publicly used or regarded by New Zealand parliamentary politicians, during efforts to strengthen a smokefree law (ie, from 1997 to 2005).
A documentary case study used published and unpublished material recording the use of research evidence by politicians. The material was collected for the period 1997–2005 from the parliamentary record, media and other databases. Additional searches were made to provide context for the politicians who used research.
Major themes identified included: (a) the employment of local estimates of SHS mortality, (b) linking specific health effects (eg, cancer) to SHS exposure, (c) a focus on the use of research relevant to bar workers, and (d) the use of research to downgrade the health effects, and attacks on the credibility of research showing health effects from SHS. Almost half of the 21 Members of Parliament (MPs), who spoke in parliament about SHS research during 2000–2005, denied or were sceptical about SHS harm. At least five MPs used tobacco industry funded or disseminated versions of research. There was some indirect evidence that the degree of exposure to the health sector, or the tobacco industry and its allies, may have been factors in the use by MPs of the research.
The willingness of some of this group of politicians to adopt tobacco industry arguments suggests possible options within health promotion. These include the better enforcement of consumer protection laws (preventing deceptive information by the tobacco industry and its allies), and the adoption of an increased focus on tobacco industry behaviour within tobacco control efforts. These moves may have beneficial effects for the use of research in public health policymaking. The strengthening by the health sector of its advocacy capacity and effectiveness may also be a crucial step in the better use of research by politicians in the policymaking process.
Internationally, many health care interventions were diffused prior to the standard use of assessments of safety, effectiveness and cost-effectiveness. Disinvestment from ineffective or inappropriately applied practices is a growing priority for health care systems for reasons of improved quality of care and sustainability of resource allocation. In this paper we examine key challenges for disinvestment from these interventions and explore potential policy-related avenues to advance a disinvestment agenda.
We examine five key challenges in the area of policy driven disinvestment: 1) lack of resources to support disinvestment policy mechanisms; 2) lack of reliable administrative mechanisms to identify and prioritise technologies and/or practices with uncertain clinical and cost-effectiveness; 3) political, clinical and social challenges to removing an established technology or practice; 4) lack of published studies with evidence demonstrating that existing technologies/practices provide little or no benefit (highlighting complexity of design) and; 5) inadequate resources to support a research agenda to advance disinvestment methods. Partnerships are required to involve government, professional colleges and relevant stakeholder groups to put disinvestment on the agenda. Such partnerships could foster awareness raising, collaboration and improved health outcome data generation and reporting. Dedicated funds and distinct processes could be established within the Medical Services Advisory Committee and Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee to, a) identify technologies and practices for which there is relative uncertainty that could be the basis for disinvestment analysis, and b) conduct disinvestment assessments of selected item(s) to address existing practices in an analogous manner to the current focus on new and emerging technology. Finally, dedicated funding and cross-disciplinary collaboration is necessary to build health services and policy research capacity, with a focus on advancing disinvestment research methodologies and decision support tools.
The potential over-utilisation of less than effective clinical practices and the potential under-utilisation of effective clinical practices not only result in less than optimal care but also fragmented, inefficient and unsustainable resource allocation. Systematic policy approaches to disinvestment will improve equity, efficiency, quality and safety of care, as well as sustainability of resource allocation.
There is increasing worldwide recognition of the need for government policies to address the recent increases in the incidence and prevalence of childhood obesity. The complexity and inter-relatedness of the determinants of obesity pose a genuine policy challenge, both scientifically and politically. This study examines the characteristics of one of the early policy responses, the NSW Government's Prevention of Obesity in Children and Young People: NSW Government Action Plan 2003–2007 (GAP), as a case study, assessing it in terms of its content and capacity for implementation.
This policy was designed as an initial set of practical actions spanning five government sectors. Most of the policy actions fitted with existing implementation systems within NSW government, and reflected an incremental approach to policy formulation and implementation.
As a case study, the NSW Government Action Plan illustrates that childhood obesity policy development and implementation are at an early stage. This policy, while limited, may have built sufficient commitment and support to create momentum for more strategic policy in the future. A more sophisticated, comprehensive and strategic policy which can also be widely implemented and evaluated should now be built on this base.
The Australian government sponsored trials aimed at addressing problems in after hours primary medical care service use in five different parts of the country with different after hours care problems. The study's objective was to determine in four of the five trials where telephone triage was the sole innovation, if there was a reduction in emergency GP after hours service utilization (GP first call-out) as measured in Medicare Benefits Schedule claim data. Monthly MBS claim data in both the pre-trial and trial periods was monitored over a 3-year period in each trial area as well as in a national sample outside the trial areas (National comparator). Poisson regression analysis was used in analysis.
There was significant reduction in first call out MBS claims in three of the four study areas where stand-alone call centre services existed. These were the Statewide Call Centre in both its Metropolitan and Non-metropolitan areas in which it operated – Relative Risk (RR) = 0.87 (95% Confidence interval: 0.86 – 0.88) and 0.60 (95% CI: 0.54 – 0.68) respectively. There was also a reduction in the Regional Call Centre in the non-Metropolitan area in which it operated (RR = 0.46 (95% CI: 0.35 – 0.61) though a small increase in its Metropolitan area (RR = 1.11 (95% CI: 1.06 – 1.17). For the two telephone triage services embedded in existing organisations, there was also a significant reduction for the Deputising Service – RR = 0.62 (95% CI: 0.61 – 0.64) but no change in the Local Triage centre area.
The four telephone triage services were associated with reduced GP MBS claims for first callout after hours care in most study areas. It is possible that other factors could be responsible for some of this reduction, for example, MBS submitted claims for after hours GP services being reclassified from 'after hours' to 'in hours'. The goals of stand-alone call centres which are aimed principally at meeting population needs rather than managing demand may be being met only in part.
There are currently limited pathways into a career in health policy research in Australia, due in part to a serious absence of health policy research capability in Australian universities.
We define what we consider health policy research and education should comprise. We then examine what is currently on offer and propose ways to strengthen health policy research in Australia.
This paper, which is part analysis and part commentary, is offered to provoke wider debate about how health policy research can be nurtured in Australia.
There is a lack of consensus about what men's health constitutes in Australia. The absence of a widely accepted definition has been problematic for establishing state and national men's health policies. I consider that one impediment to the implementation of state and federal men's health policies has been a lack of willingness to approach men's health from a broad public health perspective. In particular, scant attention has been paid to exploring lay perspectives of how men define and understand health, and in turn, how these relate to significant policy problems such as men's health service use. I conclude by suggesting that a focus on men's lay perspectives of their health emerging from the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland provides a useful framework to guide men's health policy discussion in Australia.
For nearly two decades calls have been made to expand the role of midwives within maternity services in Australia. Although some progress has been made, it has been slow and, at system-wide level, limited. There are many barriers that prevent the expansion of midwifery-led services in Australia including funding arrangements for midwifery care, a lack of political will and resistance from powerful medical interest groups. The ongoing debate that exists about the evidence for the safety of midwifery-led care, particularly for the intrapartum phase, is likely to be an important reason why policy-makers are reluctant to implement system-wide reforms of maternity services.
Those opposed to the expansion of midwifery-led care argue that these services are only appropriate for low-risk women. They claim the evidence in support of midwifery-led care has too many holes in it to guarantee that services are safe for higher risk women. Midwifery advocates, however, argue there is no evidence to support the claim that midwifery-led services lead to poorer outcomes in any risk group. Despite this, funding for midwifery-led care outside hospitals remains limited. This article contends that calls for the system-wide expansion of midwifery-led care (such as through funding independently practising midwives) based on the available evidence are unlikely to succeed. There are too many methodological challenges in this area to ever "prove" that midwifery-led services are safe – except for the lowest risk women – and when there is doubt, policy-makers are likely to err on the side of caution.
In order to expand access to midwifery care, advocates should abandon the idea of system-wide reform for now. Instead, they should concentrate on implementing small-scale, locally based changes because it is at this grass roots level that health professionals can work together to resolve the major sticking points – accurately assessing risk, identifying when it changes and responding appropriately. While a lack of political will is a major obstacle to reform it is amenable to change. We argue that system-wide reform is most likely to occur when policy-makers can reference examples of successful locally-based midwifery-led programs across Australia.
The actions of policymakers are critical to advancing tobacco control. To evaluate the feasibility of using anonymous in-depth interviews to ascertain policymakers' knowledge about, and attitudes to, the tobacco industry, we undertook a pilot study involving New Zealand policymakers.
Five politicians (from different political parties) and five senior officials, who were involved in tobacco control policy, were recruited for semi-structured, anonymous, face-to-face interviews.
Recruitment of appropriate senior policymakers was found to be possible. Interviewees were willing to answer questions fully and frankly about their knowledge and views of the tobacco industry.
The preliminary data from this pilot suggest that some New Zealand politicians appeared to see contact with the industry as similar to contact with other groups, whereas the officials indicated at least a different style of relationship. Only one politician knew if their party accepted funding from tobacco companies. All but one of the interviewees thought that promotion of tobacco to under-16 s still occurs, albeit indirectly. The interviewees' knowledge of the investment in tobacco industries by New Zealand government agencies was low or absent.
While most of those interviewed showed scepticism about tobacco company public relations efforts, this was absent in some cases. There was a wide understanding that the tobacco industry will use many tactics in the pursuit of profit, and to counteract government efforts to reduce the harm from smoking.
In-depth anonymous interviews appear to be feasible and can be productive for exploring sensitive tobacco-related policy issues with policymakers. The preliminary data from this group of New Zealand policymakers suggest important knowledge gaps, but also general distrust of this industry. From a tobacco control perspective, the results may suggest a greater focus by advocates on the funding of political parties by the tobacco industry, and on government agency investment in the tobacco industry.
Depression is one of the leading causes of disability in Australia. The cultural and linguistic diversity of the Australian population poses a significant challenge to health policy development, service provision, professional education, and research. The purpose of this study is to explore the extent to which the fact of cultural and linguistic diversity has influenced the formulation of mental health policy, the conduct of mental health research and the development of mental health services for people with depression from ethnic minority communities.
The methods used for the different components of the study included surveys and document-based content and thematic analyses.
Policy is comprehensive but its translation into programs is inadequate. Across Australia, there were few specific programs on depression in ethnic minority communities and they are confronted with a variety of implementation difficulties. The scope and scale of research on depression in Ethnic minority communities is extremely limited.
A key problem is that the research that is necessary to provide evidence for policy and service delivery is lacking. If depression in Ethnic minority communities is to be addressed effectively the gaps between policy intentions and policy implementation, and between information needs for policies and practice and the actual research that is being done, have to be narrowed.
Since the late 1980s, there has been evidence of an international trend towards more organised primary care. This has taken a number of forms including the emergence of primary care organisations. Underpinning such developments is an inherent belief in evidence that suggests that well-developed primary care is associated with improved health outcomes and greater cost-effectiveness within health systems. In Australia, primary care organisations have emerged as divisions of general practice. These are professionally-led, regionally-based, and largely government-funded voluntary associations of general practitioners that seek to co-ordinate local primary care services, and improve the quality of care and health outcomes for local communities.
In this paper, we examine and debate the development of divisions in the international context, using six roles of primary care organisations outlined in published research. The six roles that are used as the basis for the critique are the ability of primary care organisations to: improve health outcomes; manage demand and control costs; engage primary care physicians; enable greater integration of health services; develop more accessible services in community and primary care settings; and enable greater scrutiny and assurance of quality of primary care services.
We conclude that there has been an evolutionary approach to divisions' development and they now appear embedded as geographically-based planning and development organisations within the Australian primary health care system. The Australian Government has to date been cautious in its approach to intervention in divisions' direction and performance. However, options for the next phase include: making greater use of contracts between government and divisions; introducing and extending proposed national quality targets for divisions, linked with financial or other incentives for performance; government sub-contracting with state-based organisations to act as purchasers of care; pursuing a fund-holding approach within divisions; and developing divisions as a form of health maintenance organisation. The challenge for the Australian Government, should it wish to see divisions' role expand, is to find mechanisms to enable this without compromising the relatively strong GP engagement that increasingly distinguishes divisions of general practice within the international experience of primary care organisations.
Governments world wide are increasingly demanding outcome measures to evaluate research investment. Health and medical research outputs can be considered as gains in knowledge, wealth and health. Measurement of the impacts of research on health are difficult, particularly within the time frames of granting bodies. Thus evaluations often measure what can be measured, rather than what should be measured. Traditional academic metrics are insufficient to demonstrate societal benefit from public investment in health research. New approaches that consider all the benefits of research are needed.
The Consumers' Health Forum of Australia and the National Health and Medical Research Council has recently developed a Model Framework for Consumer and Community Participation in Health and Medical Research in order to better align health and medical research with community need, and improve the impact of research. Model frameworks may have little impact on what goes on in practice unless relevant organisations actively make use of them. Philanthropic and government bodies have reported involving consumers in more meaningful or collaborative ways of late. This paper describes how a large charity organisation, which funds a significant proportion of Australian cancer research, operationalised the model framework using a unique approach demonstrating that it is both possible and reasonable for research to be considerate of public values.
Many jurisdictions have used public funding of health care to reduce or remove price at the point of delivery of services. Whilst this reduces an important barrier to accessing care, it does nothing to discriminate between groups considered to have greater or fewer needs. In this paper, we consider whether active targeted recruitment, in addition to offering a 'free' service, is associated with a reduction in social inequalities in self-reported utilization of the breast screening services in NSW, Australia.
Using the 1997 and 1998 NSW Health Surveys we estimated probit models on the probability of having had a screening mammogram in the last two years for all women aged 40–79. The models examined the relative importance of socio-economic and geographic factors in predicting screening behaviour in three different needs groups – where needs were defined on the basis of a woman's age.
We find that women in higher socio-economic groups are more likely to have been screened than those in lower groups for all age groups. However, the socio-economic effect is significantly less among women who were in the actively targeted age group.
This indicates that recruitment and follow-up was associated with a modest reduction in social inequalities in utilisation although significant income differences remain.
This article provides a synopsis of the new dynamics of the global biopharma industry. The emergence of global generics companies with capabilities approximating those of 'big pharma' has accelerated the blurring of boundaries between the innovator and generics sectors. Biotechnology-based products form a large and growing segment of prescription drug markets and regulatory pathways for biogenerics are imminent. Indian biopharma multinationals with large-scale efficient manufacturing plants and growing R&D capabilities are now major suppliers of Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients (APIs) and generic drugs across both developed and developing countries. In response to generic competition, innovator companies employ a range of life cycle management techniques, including the launch of 'authorised generics'. The generics segment in Australia will see high growth rates in coming years but the prospect for local manufacturing is bleak. The availability of cheap generics in international markets has put pressure on Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) pricing arrangements, and a new policy direction was announced in November 2006. Lower generics prices will have a negative impact on some incumbent suppliers but industrial renewal policies for the medicines industry in Australia are better focused on higher value R&D activities and niche manufacturing of sophisticated products.
Industrial renewal in the bio/nanopharma sector is important for the long term strength of the Australian economy and for the health of its citizens. A variety of factors, however, may have caused inadequate attention to focus on systematically promoting domestic generic and small biotechnology manufacturers in Australian health policy.
Despite recent clarifications of 'springboarding' capacity in intellectual property legislation, federal government requirements for specific generic price reductions on market entry and the potential erosion of reference pricing through new F1 and F2 categories for the purposes of Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) assessments, do not appear to be coherently designed to sustainably position this industry sector in 'biologics,' nanotherapeutics and pharmacogenetics.
There also appears to have been little attention paid in this context to policies fostering industry sustainability and public affordability (as encouraged by the National Medicines Policy). One notable example includes that failure to consider facilitating mutual exchanges on regulatory assessment of health technology safety and cost-effectiveness (including reference pricing) in the context of ongoing free trade negotiations between Australia and China (the latter soon to possess the world's largest generic pharmaceutical manufacturing capacity). The importance of a thriving Australian domestic generic pharmaceutical and bio/nano tech industry in terms of biosecurity, similarly appears to have been given insufficient policy attention.
Reasons for such policy oversights may relate to increasing interrelationships between generic and 'brand-name' manufacturers and the scale of investment required for the Australian generics and bio/nano technology sector to be a significant driver of local production. It might also result from singularly effective lobbying pressure exerted by Medicines Australia, the 'brand-name' pharmaceutical industry association, utilising controversial interpretations of reward of pharmaceutical 'innovation' provisions in the Australia-US Free Trade Agreement (AUSFTA) through the policy-development mechanisms of the AUSFTA Medicines Working Group and most recently an Innovative Medicines Working Group with the Department of Health and Ageing. This paper critically analyses such arguments in the context of emerging challenges for sustainable industrial renewal in Australia's bio/nanopharma sector.
'Evergreening' is not a formal concept of patent law. It is best understood as a social idea used to refer to the myriad ways in which pharmaceutical patent owners utilise the law and related regulatory processes to extend their high rent-earning intellectual monopoly privileges, particularly over highly profitable (either in total sales volume or price per unit) 'blockbuster' drugs. Thus, while the courts are an instrument frequently used by pharmaceutical brand name manufacturers to prolong their patent royalties, 'evergreening' is rarely mentioned explicitly by judges in patent protection cases. The term usually refers to threats made to competitors about a brand-name manufacturer's tactical use of pharmaceutical patents (including over uses, delivery systems and even packaging), not to extension of any particular patent over an active product ingredient. This article focuses in particular on the 'evergreening' potential of so-called 'linkage' provisions, imposed on the regulatory (safety, quality and efficacy) approval systems for generic pharmaceuticals of Canada and Australia, by specific articles in trade agreements with the US. These 'linkage' provisions have also recently appeared in the Korea-US Free Trade Agreement (KORUSFTA). They require such drug regulators to facilitate notification of, or even prevent, any potential patent infringement by a generic pharmaceutical manufacturer. This article explores the regulatory lessons to be learnt from Canada's and Australia's shared experience in terms of minimizing potential adverse impacts of such 'linkage evergreening' provisions on drug costs and thereby potentially on citizen's access to affordable, essential medicines.
There has been a growing interest over recent years, both within Australia and overseas, in enhancing the translation of research into policy and practice. As one mechanism to improve the dissemination and uptake of falls research into policy and practice and to foster the development of policy-appropriate research, a "Falls Translation Task Group" was formed as part of an NHMRC Population Health Capacity Building grant. This paper reports on the group's first initiative to address issues around the research to policy and practice interface, and identifies a continuing role for such a group.
A one day forum brought together falls researchers and decision-makers from across the nation to facilitate linkage and exchange. Observations of the day's proceedings were made by the authors. Participants were asked to complete a questionnaire at the commencement of the forum (to ascertain expectations) and at its completion (to evaluate the event). Observer notes and the questionnaire responses form the basis of analysis.
Both researchers and decision-makers have a desire to bridge the gap between research and policy and practice. Significant barriers to research uptake were highlighted and included both "health system barriers" (for example, a lack of financial and human resources) as well as "evidence barriers" (such as insufficient economic data and implementation research). Solutions to some of these barriers included the identification of clinical champions within the health sector to enhance evidence uptake, and the sourcing of alternative funding to support implementation research and encourage partnerships between researchers, decision-makers and other stakeholders.
Participants sought opportunities for ongoing networking and collaboration. Two activities have been identified as priorities: establishing a "policy-sensitive" research agenda and partnering researchers and decision-makers in the process; and establishing a National Translation Task Group with a broad membership.
This article provides a commentary, from a community pharmacy perspective, on the policy environment for the pharmacy sector in Australia, with a particular focus on present challenges arising from proposals to achieve substantial PBS cost savings from an anticipated surge of new generic drugs. Some $2 billion of medicines currently on the PBS will come off patent in the next 4 years. This growth comes from a low base where generics currently account for only 15% of the total PBS budget. Remuneration for PBS dispensing is fixed through five year agreements with the government, so trading terms on generics are important for the cross-subsidy of other dispensing activities and professional services. These trading terms (discounts provided by generics suppliers) have become part of the overall cost and revenue structure of pharmacies. Despite these arrangements, generic substitution rates in Australia are lower than in most comparable countries, which the government views as an opportunity to promote generic use. The future of generic drug supply via the PBS is important to allow consumers access to medications at the lowest possible price and to provide space for PBS listing of new and expensive drugs. But considerations of PBS reform need to take account of the role and viability of community pharmacy sector as provider of pharmaceuticals in a timely and efficient manner to Australian residents.
A group of consumers of private hospital services and their carers collaborated with staff of a Melbourne private hospital and with industry representatives to develop a consumer-driven performance report on cardiac services. During the development process participating consumers identified situational and structural barriers to their right to be informed of costs, to choice and to quality care. Their growing appreciation of these barriers led them to a different perspective on performance reporting, which resulted in their redirecting the project. The consumer participants no longer wanted a performance report that provided comparative quantitative data. Instead they designed a report that outlined the structures, systems and processes the hospital had in place to address the quality and safety of services provided. In addition, consumer participants developed a decision support tool for consumers to use in navigating the private health care sector. The journey of these consumers in creating a consumer driven performance report for a private hospital service may assist those responsible for governance of Australia's health system in choosing appropriate strategies and mechanisms to enhance private hospital accountability. The situational and institutional industry barriers to choice, information and quality identified by these consumers need to be addressed before public performance reporting for private hospitals is introduced in Australia.
Systems for planning are a critical component of the infrastructure for public health. Both in Australia and internationally there is growing interest in how planning processes might best be strengthened to improve health outcomes for communities. In Australia the delivery of public health varies across states, and mandated municipal public health planning is being introduced or considered in a number of jurisdictions. In 1988 the Victorian State government enacted legislation that made it mandatory for each local government to produce a Municipal Public Health Plan, offering us a 20-year experience to consider.
In-depth interviews were undertaken with those involved in public health planning at the local government level, as part of a larger study on local public health infrastructure and capacity. From these interviews four significant themes emerge. Firstly, there is general agreement that the Victorian framework of mandatory public health planning has led to improvements in systems for planning. However, there is some debate about the degree of that improvement. Secondly, there is considerable variation in the way in which councils approach planning and the priority they attach to the process. Thirdly, there is concern that the focus is on producing a plan rather than on implementing the plan. Finally, some tension over priorities is evident. Those responsible for developing Municipal Public Health Plans express frustration over the difficulty of having issues they believe are important addressed through the MPHP process.
There are criticisms of Victoria's system for public health planning at the local government level. Some of these issues may be specific to the arrangement in Victoria, others are problems encountered in public health planning generally. In Victoria where the delivery structure for public health is diverse, a system of mandatory planning has created a minimum standard. The implementation of the framework was slow and factors in the broader political environment had a significant impact. Work done in recent years to support the process appears to have led to improvements. There are lessons for other states as they embark upon mandated public health plans.
Rehabilitation and other forms of subacute care play an important role in the Australian health care system, yet there is ambiguity around clinical definitions of subacute care, how it differs from acute care, where it is best done and what resources are required. This leads to inconsistent and often poorly defined patient selection criteria as well as a lack of research into efficient models of care.
A literature review on the potential role of utilisation review in defining levels of care and in facilitating appropriate care, with a focus on the interface between acute care and rehabilitation.
In studies using standardised utilisation review tools there is consistent reporting of high levels of 'inappropriate' bed days in acute care settings. These inappropriate bed days include both inappropriate admissions to acute care and inappropriate continuing days of stay. While predominantly an instrument of payers in the United States, concurrent utilisation review programs have also been used outside of the US, where they help in the facilitation of appropriate care. Some utilisation review tools also have specific criteria for determining patient appropriateness for rehabilitation and other subacute care.
The high levels of 'inappropriate' care demonstrated repeatedly in international studies using formal programs of utilisation review should not be ignored in Australia. Utilisation review tools, while predominantly developed in the US, may complement other Australian patient flow initiatives to improve efficiency while maintaining patient safety. They could also play a role in the identification of patients who may benefit from transfer from acute care to another type of care and thus be an adjunct to physician assessment. Testing of the available utilisation review tools in the Australian context is now required.
Subsidised access to high-cost medicines in Australia is restricted under national programs (the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, PBS, and the Repatriation Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, RPBS) with a view to achieving cost-effective use. The aim of this study was to examine the use and associated government cost of biological agents for treating rheumatoid arthritis over the first two years of subsidy, and to compare these data to the predicted outcomes.
National prescription and expenditure data for the biologicals, etanercept, infliximab, adalimumab, and anakinra were collected and analysed for the period August 2003 to July 2005. Dispensing data on biologicals sorted by the metropolitan, rural and remote zones and by prescriber major specialty were also examined.
A total of 27,970 prescriptions for biologicals was reimbursed. The government expenditure was A$53.1 million, representing only 19% of that expected. Almost all prescriptions were reimbursed by the PBS (98%, A$52 million) and the remainder by the RPBS. Approximately 62% of the prescriptions were for concessional patients (A$32.9 million). There was considerable variability in the use of biologicals across Australian states and territories, usage roughly correlating with the per capita adjusted number of rheumatologists. The total number of prescriptions continued to increase over the study period. Etanercept was the most highly prescribed agent (74% by number of prescriptions), although its use was beginning to plateau. Use of adalimumab increased steadily. Use of infliximab and anakinra was considerably lower. The resultant health outcomes for individual patients are unknown. Prescribers from capital cities and other metropolitan centres provided a majority of prescriptions of biologicals (89%).
The overall uptake of biologicals for treating rheumatoid arthritis over the first two years of PBS subsidy was considerably lower than expected. Long-term safety concerns and the expanded clinical uses of these drugs emphasise the need for evaluation. It is essential that there is comprehensive, ongoing analysis of utilisation data, associated expenditure and, importantly, patient outcomes in order to enhance accountability, efficiency and equity of policies that allocate substantial resources to subsidising national access to high-cost medicines.