Preventive social health programs: are they Australia's answer to rising health care costs in rural communities?
Australian Journal of Rural Health 9(6): 293-296
Although we have good evidence to support the notion that early intervention, prevention and community education programs can mitigate the impact of preventable disease, expanded primary health care is also being promoted by Australian governments as a panacea for reducing growth in demand generally. While preventive programs do reduce acute demand, they may not do so the extent that resources, currently allocated to the acute sector, can be substituted to provide the additional primary care services necessary to reduce acute demand permanently. These developments have particular relevance for rural and isolated communities where access to acute services is already very limited. What appears to be occurring, in rural South Australia at least, is that traditional acute services are being reduced and replaced with lower level care and social intervention programs. This is well and good, but eventually the acute care being provided in rural health units now will still need to be provided by other units elsewhere and probably at much higher cost to the system and to consumers. Where rural communities have previously managed much of their own acute service demand, they may now be forced to send patients to more distant centres for care but at much greater social and economic cost to individuals and the system.