New research makes case for policies to improve public health with self-care

By Shannon Jenkins

Wednesday October 7, 2020

Rosemary Calder

Federal health minister Greg Hunt is set to launch a new policy blueprint that calls for policy reform to improve population health and reduce health service demand through effective self-care.

To be released by the Mitchell Institute on Wednesday, the document notes a range of environmental, economic and social factors drive self-care capability. It says governments can play a major role in creating environments that either inhibit or enable self-care.

The importance of self-care to good health has also been highlighted by COVID-19, according to the Mitchell Institute’s professor of health policy, Rosemary Calder.

“Now is the time for a systematic approach, led by a national agenda to enable shared responsibility between government organisations and health care professionals to tackle health inequity and support self-care for all Australians,” she says.

“The same strong leadership from governments and health experts that has been so effective throughout the pandemic needs to be applied to improving the self-care of all Australians.”

Health status and health outcomes in many rural, Indigenous and socioeconomically disadvantaged communities are “starkly different” to those in well-resourced communities, the blueprint notes, and it presents solutions to address this.

“The concept of self-care is complementary, and central, to the concept of prevention in health,” it says.

“Targeted support for self-care through health services and within these communities through preventive health strategies and enhanced primary care capabilities would reduce health inequities and improve health outcomes in these communities.”

There is also an economic case for supporting self-care, the paper argues, with Australia having spent $185.4 billion on health in 2017–18 — more than $7485 per person.

“This represents a larger increase in spending than previous years, after four years of below-average expenditure growth. Expenditure on health care is projected to continue to rise faster than both national income and personal incomes,” the blueprint states.

Meanwhile, economic modelling has shown that maximising self-care would save between $1300 and $7515 per hospital patient per year, and significantly lower hospital readmission rates.

Endorsed by more than 50 health experts from across the country, the paper has been developed in collaboration with a number of consumers, health professionals and academics.

It presents nine priority proposals to support self-care and improve health, including developing a national health literacy strategy as well as cross-disciplinary self-care core competencies to be integrated into health professional education and training.

Calder notes that up to 60% of Australians currently lack the capacity to access, understand, appraise and use crucial information to make health-related decisions.

“Self-care by all, for all needs to become standard behaviour and practice in the community,” she says.

Another proposal is the establishment of a national digital health information library and national quality assurance framework to assess the quality and credibility of web-based health resources and mobile health apps.

There are also several structural policy approaches in the set of proposals, including:

  • Implement funding and service models to support self-care,
  • Drive investment in preventive health and self-care,
  • Establish a national approach to enabling and supporting self-care,
  • Support individual and population health through all public policies.

According to the paper, the medium-term benefits of the proposed policies include informed and empowered individuals, health service models that support and facilitate self-care, a well-supported health workforce which values and promotes self-care, and supportive public policies that provide access and opportunities for self-care.

Over the long term, benefits include all services and health professionals providing self-care support as a key component of health care provision, and high rates of effective self-care behaviours across the population.

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