Health care in Australia is provided by both private and government institutions. The federal Minister for Health, administers national health policy, and state and territory governments administer elements of health care within their jurisdictions, such as the operation of hospitals.
Medicare, administered by the federal government, is the publicly funded universal health care system in Australia which was instituted in 1984. It coexists with a private health system. Medicare is funded partly by a 2% Medicare levy (with exceptions for low-income earners), with the balance being provided by government from general revenue. An additional levy of 1% is imposed on high-income earners without private health insurance. As well as Medicare, there is a separate Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme also funded by the federal government which considerably subsidises a range of prescription medications.
The funding model for health care in Australia has seen political polarisation, with governments being crucial in shaping national health care policy.
Emerging Models of Care
The development of new models of care, such as nurse-led walk-in clinics and day surgical procedures being performed in consultants’ rooms, is shifting the boundaries between what traditionally would have been hospital-based care and care delivered by other health professionals.
Innovations such as personally controlled electronic health (e-health) records and telehealth also offer the prospect of improved communication and access to services. An e-health record allows patients and their doctors, hospitals and other health-care providers to view and share the patient’s health information, if the person has given prior consent. This information can include a summary of medications, hospital discharge records, allergies and immunisations (Department of Health 2013f).
Telehealth services use communication technologies, such as video-conferencing, to deliver health services and transmit health information.
Telehealth technology can improve access to services for people living in regional, rural and remote areas. Patients who previously had to travel to the nearest major city to see a specialist can instead use video-conferencing, which might be offered at their local GP or another local health-care venue (DoHA 2012).
Technology Driving Change
The use of e-health technologies to self-monitor health is emerging as a key dimension in contemporary health care. A United States study (Fox & Duggan 2013) found that 69% of United States adults monitored a health indicator such as weight, diet or exercise, and that 20% used technology such as mobile phone applications or websites to do so. Digital platforms such as these can incorporate functions such as sensing and geospatial tracking to provide tailored feedback and enhance the ability for accurate assessment (Norman et al. 2007).
Patients can also now use devices such as blood pressure and blood glucose monitors in their own homes to track and manage their health status and potential health risks.