Health policy is a critical aspect of social governance in a country. It refers to the decisions, direction, and implementation of medical care with the aim to achieve an objective that enhances public health. Health policy is complex and has to address the health needs of the demographic population. Health care in Australia has undergone significant expansion, standardisation, and modernisation in recent decades due to health policy. This paper will seek to investigate the medical improvement aspect of Australia’s health policy including history, its current state, and key objectives.
Health Policy in Australia
The Australian Health Association (AHA) began a massive reform of health care policy in the country in 1997. It consisted of a comprehensive review of policy and strategic planning that included all relevant stakeholders for the sector. Australia spends approximately 9% of GDP on health care, which is consistent with levels from OECD countries (Smith 3). Australia attempts to form its policy based on evidence and rational decision-making. Population-based data acquired through national databases as well health care providers help to determine the extent and focus of any public policy initiative. For example, in 1993, a National Immunization Strategy was implemented to increase immunisation rates. However, after evidence showed it was not effective, the policy was expanded and funded to cover wider demographics and reverse any disparities in access to vaccination (Morrato et al. 464). This demonstrates that Australia’s health policy is focused on the national planning of health and inclusivity.
Medical improvement, which can also be referred to as quality improvement, is a park of health care policy which seeks to address aspects of quality, productivity, innovation, and prevention (Esain et al. 565). This approach seeks to establish organisational learning that would address issues on a systemic level that would lead to improvement in health care processes and service delivery. In modern health care, quality improvement is becoming a theme and a staple for success through service improvements and patient satisfaction. Therefore, the policy is focused on addressing the gap between capabilities and delivery of medical improvements to the population.
The primary challenges facing the Australian healthcare system in terms of quality are resource allocation and patient outcome improvements. Policy implementation and bureaucratic capacity can be used to adopt performance measurements which can be used to enhance quality. The focus of medical improvements is to develop insight which areas of the healthcare sector warrant growth and development. This includes efficiency, access to health care through resource allocation, and performance of public hospitals (Dixit and Sambasivan 1). Australia’s health system has positive outcomes by international standards and does not require a paradigm shift at this time. However, the system is not optimised and efficient which can lead to waste, reduced access, and lack of high standard quality in treatment and safety. Therefore, it is critical to direct policy towards incremental improvement which would address the issues facing Australia.
At the federal level, the aspect of medical (quality) improvement policy is best defined by the implementation of National Safety and Quality Health Service (NSQHS) Standards. They have been designed with the purpose to improve service quality and patient safety by creating a standardised system of accreditation which can lead to better patient outcomes and health care environments. In 1995, a health care study found that 16% of patients experienced adverse events in Australian hospitals. After deeper investigation, it was found that many of those incidents were tied to the quality of care and could be prevented. By 2005, a national review recommended that an accreditation procedure is established for any health services, thus creating a national level of standards (Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care).
In 2006, health ministers approved a commission to develop national standards for quality and safety in health care. The NSQHS standards were created in cooperation with stakeholders from the industry. In 2009-2011, the standards underwent a pilot program to determine practicality. They were finally adopted in the 2013 and revised in 2017 (Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care). These standards serve as the most efficient method to ensure quality improvement in healthcare facilities by creating measures requiring to obtain and maintain accreditation.
In this time of focus on efficiency and quality in the health care system, Australia experienced significant improvements. For example, between 2002 and 2007, the indigenous health crisis became mainstream, leading to significant health care access in indigenous communities and reduced population disparity (McCallum 332). Furthermore, rural health services underwent improvement in the mid-2000’s as the policy was designed to recruit and retain health professionals to practice in remote areas (Fisher and Fraser 292). Overall, the history of Australia’s federal health policy in the last two decades has been aimed at medical improvement through quality guarantees and addressing vital issues in providing access to healthcare amongst populations.
Current Policy Setting
Australia follows a hybrid model of health care provision, where the government provides basic health services through public hospitals, but citizens have the choice of purchasing private insurance. Public hospitals which are operated by the government are funded through taxpayer money. However, private hospitals are meant to complement public facilities. Public administration and taxpayers oversee resource management and policy formulation. The Commonwealth Minister of Health is responsible for implementing health policy at the federal level (Dixit and Sambasivan 14).
Policy implementation remains a challenge, where an evident difference exists between targets and outcomes. This occurs due to bureaucratic capacity and fragmentation of the governance structure, splitting the system between the federal and local governments. Current policy setting occurs through a collection of information from the public and stakeholders on necessary improvement. The Commonwealth designs a policy or creates changes to existing guidelines with specific target outcomes that need to be achieved.
Key Outcomes and Objectives
The country needs to focus on optimising its health care policy in a manner which improves quality of treatment and reduces waste. Areas of inefficiency include population disparities and lack of access to health care in rural areas. High hospital admission rates arise from preventable conditions which could be mitigated through public interventions. The country strongly needs to improve the quality and safety of its public health facilities. Most of these aspects can be improved through cost-effective investment, evidence-based clinical practice, and information availability (“Improving Australia’s Health System”).
A key objective for health policy in Australia would be to implement structural reform that would lead to integrated care. This means to combine acute and primary responsibilities as well as eliminate any governance or funding barriers. Another objective would be to appropriate clinical practice. This would reduce variation in health care service. It can include disproportionate distribution of medical resources and overuse of antibiotics and surgical interventions (“Health Policy in Australia”). Variations should be monitored, and awareness should be provided to the public. Patients should be engaged in the decision-making process as well.
Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care. Transforming the Safety and Quality of Health Care. 2014, Web.
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Esain, Ann, et al. “Healthcare Quality Improvement – Policy Implications and Practicalities.” International Journal of Health Care Quality Assurance, vol. 25, no. 7, 2012, pp. 565-581.
Fisher, Karin A, and John D. Fraser. “Rural health career pathways: research themes in recruitment and retention.” Australian Health Review, vol. 34, 2010, pp. 292-296.
“Health Policy in Australia.” OECD. 2015, Web.
“Improving Australia’s Health System: What We Can Do Now.” PC News, 2015, Web.
McCallum, Kerry. “Distant and Intimate Conversations: Media and Indigenous Health Policy in Australia.” Critical Arts, vol. 27, no. 3, 2013, pp. 332-351.
Morrato, Elaine et al. “Using Population-Based Routine Data for Evidence-Based Health Policy Decisions: Lessons from Three Examples of Setting and Evaluating National Health Policy in Australia, the UK and the USA.” Journal of Public Health, vol. 29, no. 4, 2007, pp. 463-471.
Smith, John. “The AHA’s Ideas on Health Policies for Australia.” Australian Health Review, vol. 21, no. 12, 1998, pp. 38-65.