If the Coalition gets into office, what could Australia’s health system look like?

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What could the health system look like if the Coalition was in power?

What could the health system look like if the Coalition was in power?

With an election pending, there has been a lot of noise from the Opposition about potential policies and reforms. In a parallel universe, what would the Australian health system look like if the Coalition was in power?

Recent proposals  from the Federal Opposition include cutting funding from current Labor health reforms including…

  • Medicare Locals
  • GP infrastructure to upgrade primary care facilities 
  • A national e-health system
  • 24 hour GP phone helpline grants

…and using this cash to roll out a $1.5 billion plan to improve mental health services, including:

  • 20 new early psychosis intervention and prevention centres 
  • 60 additional Headspace sites for young people with mental illness  
  • 800 early intervention beds
The Coalition also announced a $35 million grant towards the establishment of a Clinical Trials Network for diabetes. This supplements the $5 million that former PM Kevin Rudd announced back in March.

Whilst Tony Abbott claims Labor has been inactive in mental health reform, Nicola Roxon was quick to hit back against the proposals, saying national hospital and health reforms will be at risk if Labor is voted out of office

“It’s very important we do not neglect mental health and one of the disappointing aspects of the Government’s health reform proposals is that there’s been so little on mental health.”

Tony Abbott

 “The Coalition’s policy is undermined by the fact it is funded by cutting Labor’s health reforms, such as GP super clinics and e-health.”

Nicola Roxon

What are the stakeholders saying?

The AMA is currently sitting on the sidelines and waiting for further updates on what funding would be left for GPs, whilst the Mental Health Foundation of Australia expects the Federal Government to announce its own mental health reforms in the near future.

Australian of the Year, Professor Patrick McGorry, has called on the Federal Government bring physical and mental health together under a new mental health plan, whilst speaking at the National Press Club last week.  

The Coalition said last week they would unveil their primary care policy before the election, in response to concerns about how much (if any) funding would remain for primary care.

With a few months to go until an election, there is plenty of time for further announcements, proposed reforms and complete u-turns, so watch this space!

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Lab-grown organs – is the future closer than we think?

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Australian Doctor reported on some pioneering research this week – researchers in the US have successfully transplanted lab-grown lung tissue into rats that works like the real thing. The pipe dream of organically grown organs has long been discussed in medical circles, but this breakthrough led us to consider whether the future might be closer than we think?

For years, transplant surgery has been the primary way of replacing severely damaged organs. Yet transplantation is one of the most challenging and complex areas of modern medicine – doctors must battle with organ rejections and transplant failure, as well as a major shortage of organs.

In June 2008, the world’s first whole tissue-engineered organ – the windpipe – was successfully transplanted into a 31 year old lady in Spain. 18 months on, she is leading a near-normal life without the need for immunosuppressants.

In cosmetics, ‘Reconstituted Human Epidermis’ (aka lab-grown skin) is already a reality – made from discarded skin during surgery, synthetic skin is being used to test the irritancy of chemicals as an alternative to animal and human testing. The technique has taken 30 years to perfect.

In the last few months, research teams have successfully created biologic blood vessels, corneal tissue and intervertebral discs. Next will be the development of a full-sized, functional organs. Moving one step further into the future, new research is investigating ways to use this technology to repair tissues and might one day prevent organ failure altogether.

However this area is surrounded by controversy. Whilst the development of lab-grown organs may benefit medicine, the use of stem cells continues to influence public opinion on whether or not research should continue. What do you think?

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The 2010 Federal budget – a healthy balance?

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Cube attended a post-budget discussion yesterday led by Chris Caton, Chief Economist at BT Financial Group, dissecting the 2010 Federal budget announcement. Contrary to 2009 forecasts – made during the height of the global economic crisis – the Government is aiming to drive the budget back into surplus within just three years.

As predicted, health is high on the priority list in this year’s budget. A total new investment of $7.3 billion in the National Health and Hospitals Network over five years hit the headlines yesterday, funded by major reforms and tax increases across three economic sectors.

Where have the savings been made?

The 2010 Federal budget – a healthy balance?

The 2010 Federal budget – a healthy balance?

Increases in tax revenue across three core sectors will be used to fund the pledged health reform. As pre-announced in the media two weeks ago, taxes on tobacco have increased by 25%; a $9 billion Resource Super Profit Tax on the mineral industry was announced last week; and significant reforms within healthcare through the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) and a new Community Pharmacy Agreement are predicted to deliver a total $2.5 billion in net savings over five years from 2010-11.

PBS reform plans began back in 2007 and are expected to generate about $6 billion in savings. Designed to take advantage of patent expiry, cuts to the price of prescription medicines are expected to generate $2 billion savings to the Government and about $300 million to patients over four years. Economic experts at the post-budget discussion suggested that leaning against the steady growth in PBS spending seen in recent years was an appropriate measure.

Where is the money going to be spent?

Whilst tax increases are not always popular and reforms can take time, the cuts will help fund the Government’s new health commitment. These savings will provide an additional $2.2 billion to meet the needs of Australia’s healthcare system, including:

  1. $355 million for almost 450 GP ‘Super Clinics’
  2. $417 million to enhance after-hours services, making them more streamlined
  3. $523 million to provide practice nurses in all GP surgeries  
  4. $467 million to rollout the national e-Health strategy, introducing individual electronic health records

Distilling the debate down to a grassroots level, patients may receive cheaper scripts, better access to GPs and practice nurses, shorter waiting lists for elective surgery and emergency department care, and better chronic disease management.

The current Government has placed a major focus in the national health system in an election year and time will quickly show the outcome of its decisions.

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Going the extra mile for a good cause

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If someone asked you to drive a rusty old car worth less than your TV set, don an Akubra and drive 3,500kms through the 45®C unforgiving Australian outback on just $500 worth of petrol, would you say yes? Well someone from Cube did, and for a good reason – to raise funds for Cancer Council NSW.

People from around the world are coming together to take part in the inaugural Sh*tbox Rally this month to raise funds for Cancer Council NSW. On 20 March, 17 teams will each drive an old car of less than $1,000 value – in other words, a sh*tbox – 3,500 kms from Sydney to Alice Springs. The challenge is to get there in one piece – both the cars and the participants!

The 2010 Shitbox Rally Route

The 2010 Shitbox Rally Route

From the gateway of the outback at Nyngan, to Broken Hill, up the Oodnadatta Track, onto Uluru/Ayres Rock and finishing in Alice Springs, the Rally will incorporate some of the most challenging roads in Australia. Participants range from their early 20’s to late 30’s and herald from the UK, Hong Kong as well as various states across Australia including VIC, QLD, NSW and SA.

One of Cube’s very own employees, Polly Lutter, is taking part: “The challenge will be to ensure our old car reaches the destination in one piece whilst raising as much money as possible. Sadly, we all know someone who has been affected by cancer and I wanted to raise awareness of the wonderful work done by the Cancer Council of NSW. It’s also a great way to see some of this amazing country whilst ‘roughing it’ a little along the way!”

Organiser and founder of the Sh*tbox Rally, James Freeman, who recently lost both his parents as well as his brother (five years ago) to cancer, hopes not only to raise funds for Cancer Council NSW, but also help support the greater community of people the disease affects. “Like me, the type of people that are doing the Rally want to make a bigger and more meaningful contribution to the fight against cancer.” 

Cancer Council NSW funds vital cancer research, prevention, information and support services like the Cancer Council Helpline. Help the team reach their fundraising goal by donating online at Everyday Hero.

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Could an app a day keep the doctor away?

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The search for health information online is now part of everyday life (we are living in a nation of cyberchondriacs after all). Yet the technology we’re using to find this information is changing as software giants try to keep up with our fast-paced lifestyles. Rather than Google-searching on a PC, Aussies are increasingly downloading the latest and funkiest health-related applications on their iPhones.

More than 70 per cent of us access information services from our mobile phones and with a rapidly increasing market share in Australia, the iPhone is predicted to surpass the BlackBerry as the dominant smartphone by this time in 2012. Stats show iPhone users in Australia consume a massive six times more data than the average mobile user – consuming almost 2MB more data per session and spending a lot longer browsing, even ahead of desktop users.

Capitalising on this consumer trend, Apple have hit the jackpot with the creation of their applications (or ‘apps’ for short) – third-party software programs developed specifically for the iPhone and iPod Touch that can be downloaded directly by the phone or downloaded onto a computer and transferred to the phone. And the good news is you can literally get an app for anything!

iPhone health apps

Could an app a day keep the doctor away? Cube healthcare communications blog

 Out of approximately 140,000 apps, there are around 3,100 within the ‘Health & Fitness’ category. Whether they are free or paid-for, global or local, the range of health apps is vast. From a lifestyle perspective you can track your personal food intake and the nutritional value of what you’re are eating with CalorieTrack, or for just $0.99 you can download SmokeCount to help boost your willpower in the battle against cigarettes.

From a healthcare perspective, examples include the AutismTest – developed by KOLs as an accurate guideline for self-screening; Drugs&Medications – a quick reference guide to FDA drug information aimed at pharmacists, nurses, physicians and students;  iAnemia – a ‘diagnostic medical tool’ for those managing blood diseases; and VaxTrack – a personal vaccination planner which links to the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) schedule of recommended vaccinations.

Other useful examples include iDoc – a free US-based service through which users can get in touch with real physicians to ask medically-related questions (specialists available to answer questions include surgeons, medical specialists and mental health doctors), an app that has received great feedback from users; and Sleep Cycle – download the app, place your iphone under your mattress and the bio-alarm clock analyses your sleep patterns and wakes you when you are in the lightest sleep phase. The app uses the accelerometer in your iPhone to monitor your movement to determine which sleep phase you are in. This interactivity between the user’s physical environment and the software in their phone is where the potential for truly innovative, value-add apps really lies.

You’re also less likely to download a futile app as users can rate them individually, so you quickly get a sense of whether an app will offer any real value. The apps also link through to websites for further information. 

So could the iPhone app be the future of the online health search? More and more companies are incorporating the development of apps into their e-marketing strategies and we will no doubt see a major increase in the number of apps available to download this year.

And for those you use that don’t yet have an iPhone, don’t worry – the majority of apps also have versions available on BlackBerry and mobile phones running Google’s Android software.

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Twitter and healthcare – could 2010 be the year they come together?

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Hands up who’s been on Twitter for more than 12 months? Be honest!

If, like most people, you can’t put up your hand then don’t worry, because it was only in 2009 that Twitter really hit the mainstream. Created back in 2006, the site provided a unique microblogging service that enabled users to send messages (tweets) of up to 140 characters to their network of followers across the globe. However, by 2008 there were still only a few hundred thousand users.

It wasn’t until the beginning of last year when big-name celebrities began using the service to connect with their fan base, and Governments and big corporations used the site to extend the reach of their campaigns, that Twitter hit the headlines and experienced serious exponential growth.

The exact number of users is hard to quantify, but by September last year the number of live Twitter accounts is said to have passed an incredible 50 million. One in five internet users employ Twitter or another service to send updates about themselves or to see other people’s updates.

Twitter and healthcare – could 2010 be the year they come together?

Twitter and healthcare – could 2010 be the year they come together?

The early adopters of Twitter in the healthcare arena have been clinical groups, hospitals and healthcare organisations who are beginning to use Twitter to communicate timely information within the medical community, to patients and the public. Real-time tweets provide a fast and easy way to reach multiple people in a short space of time. This has advantages for sharing time-critical information such as drug safety warnings, tracking disease outbreaks and disseminating healthcare information.

Twitter applications are now available to help patients find out about clinical trials or to link brief news alerts from organisations like the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to reliable websites that provide more detailed information. International congresses are now using tweet streams to update followers on the latest news and data announcements.

Twitter has become an integral part of communication in today’s society. In fact, for the first time, the updated Medicines Australia Code of Conduct includes reference to social media (section 12.9 for consumers, 2.4.2 for healthcare professionals) – removing the current ambiguity and providing definitive acceptance of this medium as a valid communication channel within the healthcare arena.

With major health issues like swine flu topping the charts as the second most tweeted about topic in 2009, it’s clear that health will continue to be discussed via social media. It’s time the Pharma industry began dipping its toe into the water and using this channel to openly interact with its target audiences.

If Pharma is not part of the conversation to begin with, how can we expect our voice to be heard?

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Lung cancer network finds its voice

Giving lung cancer a voice at Kirribilli House in Sydney

Giving lung cancer a voice at Kirribilli House in Sydney

Cube was lucky enough to attend a momentous event at Kirribilli House a couple of weeks ago in which lung cancer patients, advocates and clinicians united to call for urgent, higher priority for lung cancer, led by The Australian Lung Foundation.

Since 1956 Kirribilli House has been the official Sydney residence of the Prime Minister. However, when Kevin Rudd came into office, he announced that selected charities would be invited to use Kirribilli House to help them raise funds and awareness for their important work.

Attended by over 130 people, the event recognised some of the extraordinary individuals who have contributed to raising much needed awareness, via personal video stories. One lung cancer survivor spoke of her incredible journey, being diagnosed with lung cancer by chance. The diagnosis came as a huge shock as she had never smoked a cigarette in her life. Her story echoes many others – more than 20 Australians die every day from lung cancer, one in six of whom has never smoked.

What is clear is that survival after a lung cancer diagnosis in this country is far too short and this disease has, until now, been very low on the health agenda. Yet early lung cancer is actually a curable disease.

Thanks to the incredibly strong network of patients and carers, the Lung Foundation has created a powerful, unified voice which is starting to be heard within the community. Hopefully this unforgiving disease will begin to get the recognition it rightly deserves.

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The rise and rise of swine flu

The rise and rise of swine flu

The rise and rise of swine flu

Despite continued Global media coverage, swine flu seems to be in decline within Australia, or at least within manageable limits.

The media first coined the phrase ‘swine flu’ back in April this year after a new strain of influenza containing genetic fragments of swine, bird and human viruses was detected. The WHO declared a Global pandemic in June after the number of infections reached 28,774 in 74 countries, including 144 deaths.

Whilst the potential impact of new, fast moving viral strains can rarely be quantified, it has to be said that everyone likes a good health ‘scare’. A random Google search for ‘swine flu’ today came up with over 34 million hits, the vast majority being media coverage. Yet much of the online buzz was propelled by social networking sites with swine flu rating as a trending topic on Twitter for several weeks.

At the time of this blog post, the death toll in Australia is said to have reached 128, with 460 in hospital and 94 of them in intensive care. However within Australia at least, the virus is now perceived to be manageable. Health officials announced last week that vaccinations may start within the month, making Australia the first country to begin mass vaccination against the H1N1 virus.

The swine flu ‘buzz’ continues due to the ongoing impact overseas. Just today, in a bid to halt the spread of the virus, the mayor of a small French town banned spitting and wrote to football chiefs to demand that footballers who spit be sent off, putting the issue back on the front page.

As the northern hemisphere goes into the winter flu season the swine flu ‘noise’ is set to continue, circulating via the global media. Potential new strains, mass vaccination and a resurgence of other influenza viruses like bird flu may add further fuel to the fire.

One thing is for sure – this health story is not going away anytime soon.

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