Empowering physiotherapists to refer direct to medical specialists with a Medicare rebate will bolster patient care in regional and remote areas, according to the Australian Physiotherapy Association (APA).
APA president Marcus Dripps said state and federal governments must invest more into advancing physiotherapy opportunities, such as changing legislation to enable physiotherapists to refer with a rebate, in a bid to improve care for rural and remote patients.
“Patients of physiotherapists in rural areas, who already have restricted access to the medical specialists because of chronic shortages, have an additional hurdle…when accessing the most suitable medical practitioner,” he said.
“The extra doctor visit also carries a Medicare cost, takes up the GP’s time and resources,and patients also carry the cost of gap payments.”
New Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) figures show rural and remote Australians face greater barriers to health care, including cost and longer waiting times, compared to people living in major cities.
In 2013-14, 12.9 million people (82 per cent) living in outer regional, remote or very remote locations aged 15 and over visited a GP at least once in the previous 12 months.
The report shows six per cent of people were more likely to delay seeing or not see a GP because of cost while almost a third waited “longer than they felt acceptable” to get an appointment with a GP.
About 33 per cent of people living in outer regional, remote or very remote locations who visited an emergency department in 2013-14 presented at ED because a GP was not available.
Under current legislation, physiotherapists must refer patients to a GP to ensure patients qualify for a Medicare rebate.
In its pre-budget submission, the APA said physiotherapist referrals will reduce GP visits by about 737,000 a year, increase specialist medical practitioner consultations by 55,521, and deliver more than $2.1 million in savings to patients while shaving $3.6 million from the federal health budget every year.
With about a quarter of APA physiotherapists living in regional and remote areas, Mr Dripps said physiotherapy referrals with rebates will benefit the economy and health care system while enabling GPs to spend more time on clinical care.
“There is an urgent need to improve access to physiotherapy in rural and regional areas,” he said.
“We’re urging state and federal governments to invest more into advancing physiotherapy opportunities to ensure better care for patients in rural and regional areas.
“This comes through increasing funding and resourcing, providing greater career opportunities, enhancing technology and reducing legislative barriers.”