A recent forum found that there’s simply not enough published evidence to prove the benefits and cost effectiveness of allied health.
Services for Australian Rural and Remote Allied Health (SARRAH) brought together researchers, corporate members, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander members and health policy experts to discuss why allied health is undervalued in the health system.
SARRAH is the peak body representing rural and remote allied health professionals.
The idea for the forum emerged from SARRAH’s reflections on its dealings with Governments.
Many allied health professionals are private providers and don't have access to Medicare billing. So unlike GPs, who do bill Medicare, there is no clear data source to show where allied health is being used, and where it’s most needed.
This has made allied health professionals less visible to Health Departments and politicians alike, even though allied health may make up the majority of the health care team.
A young person with an eating disorder may be seeing their local GP. But they would ideally be supported by a psychologist, a dietitian, an exercise physiologist and an occupational therapist. Each health professional has a role to support the person and their family as they recover.
The forum discussed how health professionals and health consumers are not aware of the range of local allied health options and the benefits they can provide.
Forum participants also noted that allied health programs funded by governments are often not evaluated, or the evaluations are not available publicly.
The forum focussed on three broad areas that make use of allied health professionals: the Health Care Homes program coordinating care for patients with chronic and complex conditions; maternal and child health; and the NDIS.
Forum attendees noted that one of the major barriers to more effective use of allied health is the lack of an appropriate funding model.
While a Chronic Disease Plan or a Mental Health Plan may include limited access to some allied health, out of pocket costs deterred many people in rural and remote communities from making use of allied health services to support their level of need.
Dr Kristine Battye facilitated the day, supported by Dr Scott Davies.
The forum concluded that the most important over arching issue for allied health is the development of new funding models and new models of service delivery.
Without a sustainable business model for rural and remote allied health service delivery, it will not be viable for allied health professionals to support the range of significant government reforms now being rolled out.
Without allied health professionals, addressing chronic diseases and supporting better health outcomes in rural and remote communities is significantly more difficult.
Participants discussed the need to raise awareness particularly for planners in aged care and the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).
They noted the need for better data and improved timeliness of data, such as taking into account allied health non-Medicare billings to provide a better reflection of the importance of services.
Attendees also identified the changing needs and aspirations of rural and remote communities and the importance of health, disability and aged care services for health consumers, and as a source of local jobs.
The Forum concluded there is a great need for timely and accurate information on the distribution of rural and remote allied health professionals, and how allied health supports primary health care.
It recommended an allied health research and evidence plan be prepared.
SARRAH intends to use the suggestions and ideas generated at the forum to develop an evidence plan and identify gaps in evidence to inform research needs. These will then form the basis for future advocacy and discussion with governments and other rural and remote organisations.