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This section provides information on the number and types of Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) subsidies for palliative care-related services provided by palliative medicine specialists, along with the characteristics of patients who received these services.

The Australian and New Zealand Society of Palliative Medicine describes palliative medicine specialists as the 'general physicians of end of life care, able to coordinate a wide array of palliative treatment options (including chemotherapy, radiotherapy, surgical options, pharmacological options) and psychosocial care, based on a knowledge of the disease, burden versus benefits of palliative therapeutics and the wishes of patient and family' (ANZSPM 2009:162). A palliative medicine specialist is a medical specialist who is a Fellow of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians and has completed the College's training program in palliative medicine, a Fellow of the Australasian Chapter of Palliative Medicine, or both (ANZSPM 2008).

Key points

  • In 2015–16, almost 14,300 patients received an MBS-subsidised palliative care medicine specialist service.
  • There were about 74,300 MBS-subsidised services provided by palliative medicine specialists.
  • About $5.6 million was paid in benefits for MBS-subsidised palliative medicine specialist services in
    2015–16, at an average of $393 per patient. Over the past 5 years, MBS benefits paid for all palliative medicine specialist services increased by almost 60%.
  • Western Australia recorded the highest rate of subsidised palliative medicine specialist services of 617.0 per 100,000 population, double the national average rate (310.4).

The information in this section was last updated in May 2017.

Patients who are referred to palliative medicine specialists usually have high-level and complex needs (physical, social, psychological, emotional), including:

  • an exacerbation of a previously stable symptom, and/or
  • identified needs (physical, social, emotional or spiritual) that exceed the capacity (knowledge, resources, facilities) of the primary care providers (PCA 2005).

It should be noted that a patient may access more than one type of MBS-subsidised palliative medicine specialist service during the reporting period presented and that each service presented in this section is counted separately.

The data relate only to when those palliative care services which are provided by a palliative medicine specialist are being claimed under the MBS. In other words, the reported number of patients who receive palliative medicine services are likely to be an underestimate of total palliative care activity. This is due to the fact that other medical specialists (such as geriatricians and oncologists) may also attend to terminally ill patients and provide palliative care, without the service being eligible to be claimed as a palliative care-related service under MBS (Parker et al. 2008).

The information presented in this chapter relates to MBS-subsidised palliative medicine specialist services in the financial year 2015–16. To provide information on changes over time, data are also presented for the reporting periods 2011–12 to 2015–16. More detailed information on the scope and coverage of the data presented in this chapter is provided in data sources.


References

ANZSPM (Australian and New Zealand Society of Palliative Medicine) 2008.
Defining the meaning of the terms consultant physician in palliative medicine and palliative medicine specialist. Canberra: ANZSPM. Viewed 24 October 2016.

ANZSPM 2009. Caring for people at the end of life: submission to the National Health and Hospitals Reform Commission. Canberra: ANZSPM Incorporated.

Parker MH, Cartwright CM & Williams GM 2008. Impact of specialty on attitudes of Australian medical practitioners to end-of-life decisions. Medical Journal of Australia 188:450-6.

PCA (Palliative Care Australia) 2005. A guide to palliative care service development: A population based approach. Canberra: PCA.