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Why is a Mandatory Preventative Health Program so vital?

The need for a new, far more effective approach to health and ageing services has become urgent across Australian communities. In my view, a Mandatory Preventative Health Program (MPHP) is one of the most vital necessities and opportunities for widespread health and wellbeing across our ageing population. This is especially so in relation to how the current health system relates to older people.

The cracks in the existing system, which focuses on illness and dependency, have grown too wide with inflexibility, accessibility challenges, navigation difficulties and inevitable unaffordability – thus making the outcomes from it sub-optimal for the growing number of system users and service providers within our communities.

Solutions are needed, and they are within reach. New models must be embraced, with innovation an absolute imperative.

There are numerous glaring consequences from the long-term engagement of our poor-performing system. Generally, people’s knowledge of the system and what is accessible to them is greatly lacking, as is their knowledge of associated costs and the overall scope of services. Health literacy across the community is well below par. Accurate information about health and ageing is difficult to access, if it exists at all.

Similarly, individuals’ knowledge of their own health and the cognisance of issues to manage it is inadequate. So too is the actioning of prevention.

These are solvable problems, and solutions must involve interventions at particular stages throughout the course of every individual’s life. This would provide a circuit breaker to the existing predicament, and indeed lead to prevention ahead of cures. That is, essentially, the core of what an MPHP can offer, an optimal approach both individually and nationally.

The objectives of such a concept include the easing of pressure on a failing health system (in the broadest sense), the reduction or prevention of a person’s need for (expensive) aged and other care and thirdly to empower people to thrive in later life.

An MPHP would involve a person accessing a funded overall health assessment designed to identify their holistic health status, which could then be used to plan and guide for their enhanced wellbeing and as healthy a future as possible.

A variety of milestones in people’s lives could be used to mark these assessments. For example, at a particular phase of someone’s life, such as retirement, reaching a particular age (such as 65 years), their first access to the age pension or to their superannuation. These are just some of the possibilities and pertinent stages in people’s lives that could be very beneficial times to address their health and wellbeing at the time and going forward.

There are a variety of health disciplines that could be endorsed and registered to provide the funded service through in-person consultations.

There are a number of important components that would need to be individually addressed to ensure the success of an MPHP. These include an individual’s physical wellbeing, incorporating both biological and physiological health; as well as their emotional and psychological wellbeing.

Also important is the availability and distribution of information regarding the health and ageing system, network, cover and access, sitting alongside community links.

Other key components include increasing an individual’s health literacy through widespread health education to address risks, opportunities and self-management. Also, a social focus designed to promote and foster meaningful activity that will support the physical and emotional wellbeing of individuals.

When desired or required, the MPHP would provide an introduction to services and assistance, be it proactively or restoratively.

The standard deliverables from an optimal MPHP service would include future planning through recognising factors to monitor, immediate action where required, and identify options to address relevant issues.

Also, the production of a high-level health plan templated and standardised across the program, adaptable to the individual. So too, guides to the health system specific to geographic regions combined with capacity to report, assess and plan to share information between personal health providers, e.g. GP, allied health providers et al., as directed by the individual.

In terms of costs, an estimate of less than $3,000 per person over 65 years of age is reasonable. Cost factors to be considered include those involved in resources; marketing, advertising, as well as data collection and collation. Also, the expenses involved with community consultation and engagement, as well as with health professionals and other relevant parties.

Finally, the costs incurred with registering, approving and administering service providers; and policy, rules and regulations. These financial outlays though should be seen as an investment.

Other important considerations include whether we should start the program at a younger age to potentially benefit from the earlier adoption of preventative measures. Then there’s the role that medical insurers and Medicare can play within the system to create ease and effectiveness across the board.

We should also look at how to best use member-based organisations such as National Seniors, the automobile associations and other state bodies to drive the take-up of the system. And the option of paying for more services in this engagement, along with incentives or penalties for engagement take-up should be considered. 

With so much to gain and plenty to consider, there is no time to waste in adopting a far more effective system than the one we currently have. An MPHP has become not just an opportunity for the health and wellbeing of our ageing population, but a must-do intervention.

Marcus Riley is the director of the Global Ageing Network, author of positive ageing book BOOMING and CEO of BallyCara.

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