The second highest incidence of cancer, substantial antidepressant consumption and a worrying obesity rate are among the Australian findings in the OECD’s latest report comparing the healthcare data of 35 nations.
 
Health at a Glance 2017 compares health systems globally, evaluating their performance, non-medical determinants of health, access to care, quality of care, and the resources devoted to population health, with findings designed to inform healthcare policy and planning.
 
While Australians are healthier than the OECD average, the majority of Australian adults – 63.4 per cent – are overweight or obese, the fifth highest rate in the OECD, the report found. The obesity rate alone was 27.9 per cent, well above the OECD average of 19.4 per cent.
 
The researchers also claim that despite universal health coverage, a relatively high proportion of Australians skip medical consultations because of costs – 16.2 per cent, compared to an OECD average of 10.5 per cent.
 
Australia has the second highest incidence of cancer in the OECD, with breast, prostate, colorectal and lung cancers the most common types of the disease. However, mortality rates are lower than the OECD average, with the five-year survival for breast cancer, colorectal cancer and leukaemia among the best in the OECD indicating early detection and high quality cancer care.
 
Hospital admission rates for asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease were found to be among the highest in the OECD at 371 per 100000 people versus an OECD average of 236. According to the report, “These conditions are best managed in the community setting, and the majority of hospital admissions are considered preventable. These results therefore suggest room for improvement.”
 
In terms of medication, consumption of antidepressants doubled in OECD countries between 2000 and 2015, with Iceland reporting the highest level at twice the OECD average, followed by Australia, Portugal and the United Kingdom.
 
Other Australian findings include:
 

  • Life expectancy at birth was 82.5 years in 2015, the fifth highest.
  • Alcohol consumption was slightly above the OECD average.
  • Health spending averages US$4708 per person, slightly higher than the OECD average of US$4003.
  • Australia has more nurses and doctors (11.5 and 3.5 per 1000 people) than the OECD average (9.0 and 3.4 respectively).
  • The number of hospital beds per capita is slightly lower than average.
  • Vaccination rates have dropped in the OECD in recent years in some countries, notably for measles coverage in Australia and Italy.

 
In terms of healthcare staffing, the pay disparity between GPs and specialists in Australia was found to be substantial.
 
“In most countries, specialists earned significantly more than the average worker, and more than the general practitioners. In 2015, the income gap between specialists and general practitioners was particularly high in Australia, Belgium and Luxembourg, where the self-employed specialists earned over twice the remuneration earned by general practitioners.”
 
The report also found nurses in Australia earn more than average.
 
“In most OECD countries, the remuneration of hospital nurses was at or slightly above the average wage of all workers in 2015. In New Zealand, the United States, Greece and Australia, it was about 20 per cent greater than the average wage.”
 
According to the study, new medical technologies are improving diagnosis and treatment, and contributing to increased health sector spending. It found Japan has by far the highest number of MRI and CT scanners per capita, followed by the United States for MRI units and Australia for CT scanners.
 
The use of healthcare IT could contribute to improved prevention and management of chronic disease, with the report recommending better care coordination and a patient-centred approach.
 
“Changing demographics and disease patterns require health systems to better manage complex chronic conditions and to redesign care models around the needs of patients.”