Report uncovers health challenges faced by regional populations
Research from an Australian health fund has highlighted the health challenges faced by regional populations, as well as significant variations between different regional locations.
The Westfund Regional Health Gap Report, completed in partnership with Insight Actuaries, examined the health-risk distribution, access to care and costs of treatment across eight key locations of its membership. Over 66,000 unique patients were analysed over a seven-year period; this research was supplemented by surveys and in-depth interviews with members and local providers.
Chronic conditions, such as COPD, obesity and diabetes, were found to be a particular issue for regional members, who experienced more of this type of condition as well as having higher risk factors for chronic illness. Westfund’s research indicated these patients may also not have access to the health services they need to manage their conditions.
Stark differences between regions were apparent in the figures from Townsville, where Westfund members were found to include approximately 50% more high-risk individuals per 1000 healthy members compared to Westfund members in Mudgee, Orange and Bathurst.
The treatment prevalence of cancer also varied across regional areas for Westfund members. Generally, skin cancers were found to be common in coastal hubs and rural centres. The treatment prevalence of skin cancer was the highest in Mackay, Lithgow and Wollongong. Treatment of other cancers was highest in Townsville.
The report found that healthcare provision and needs are potentially mismatched geographically, exacerbating the inequities between regions.
Access was an issue across regional areas, meaning there were delays in regional populations receiving the care they need. 49% of Westfund members surveyed thought the wait time to see their GP was unreasonable, while 95% of Westfund staff in regional areas said there was a gap between supply and demand for mental health.
In undertaking research into the variations in healthcare delivery based on location, Westfund said it aimed to identify areas with unmet needs, target resources effectively, and implement strategies to improve overall healthcare access and quality.
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