How are the Primary Health Networks an improvement on Medicare Locals?

How are the Primary Health Networks an improvement on Medicare Locals?

According to IHPA (Independent Hospital Pricing Authority), the national average cost to admit a person from the emergency department in 2014 is $1,0371. One of the roles of the Primary Health Networks (PHNs) is to prevent additional pressure on public hospitals with avoidable admissions.

The Department of Health states the PHNs are established with the key objectives of:

  • Increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of medical services for patients, particularly those at risk of poor health outcomes
  • Improving coordination of care to ensure patients receive the right care in the right place at the right time

PHNs will achieve these objectives by working directly with general practitioners, other primary health care providers, secondary care providers and hospitals to ensure improved outcomes for patients. In addition, the Government has agreed to six key priorities for targeted work. These are: mental health, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health, population health, health workforce, eHealth and aged care2.

How do the PHNs differ from Medicare Locals?

The PHNs were established to address weaknesses the Medicare Locals had where:

  • They weren’t comprehensive enough. They didn’t include community health (in some states) or hospitals so the system was fragmented
  • They had limited resources and little authority to pull services into networks to fill service gaps
  • They found it hard to take a broad view of primary health care. They needed to think about social as well as medical care, and community as well as individual problems – all without alienating general practitioners who are a core part of primary health care3

A new focus on providing services to improve health and wellbeing

Minister for Health Sussan Ley said the 31 new Primary Health Networks – worth a total of nearly $900 million – would be “outcome focussed” on improving frontline services, and would also generally align with state Local Hospital Networks to ensure better integration between primary and acute care services.

They also added additional checks and balances via the creation of PHN Community Advisory Committees, which will ensure all patients and local communities can provide feedback to, and have direct input into, the PHN to ensure they deliver the localised health care requirements that were unique to their region4.

The Australian population may not necessarily be more ill, but there is a change in health issues and there needs to be a way to actively manage these. Let’s hope the PHNs do a better job this time round.