According to a new report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW), the treatment of even the most common health conditions in Australia can “vary considerably” depending on whereabouts in the country a patient lives.
The ‘Exploring Healthcare Variation in Australia’ discussion paper, released by the AIHW in conjunction with the Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care, found variation in management procedures for a range of common ailments such as knee surgery and hysterectomy. It looked at the rates of cases of these treatments recorded between 2010-11, taking into account the geographical locations of the primary healthcare organisations that delivered the treatment, otherwise known as Medicare Locals.
Professor Villis Marshall, chairman of the Commission, stressed that “unwarranted variation” in healthcare is a serious issue. It can suggest two things: that some patients are missing out on effective care, or that others are undergoing tests or other interventions that are unnecessary or whose benefits outweigh any benefit that may be gained.
“While some variation may be due to differences in patients’ needs or preferences, unwarranted variation in healthcare is recognised around the world as an important concern,” explained Professor Marshall.
“What these findings really bring home is the importance of patients being fully informed about all of their options when making decisions about their healthcare.”
This was a sentiment echoed by AIHW Chief Executive Officer David Kalisch, who said that certain areas with high levels of variation – such as knee arthroscopy and hysterectomy – “merit further investigation”.
Professor Marshall added that findings like those presented in the paper could benefit all involved, from patients to healthcare providers and clinicians. Healthcare organisations, for instance, could improve their quality of care and increase spending efficiency by identifying areas with high variation in tests and interventions.
“Patients who are fully informed about the implications of various options and how these align with their own values will often make different choices about their care,” he added.
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