Author: Professor Adam Elshaug1 and Professor Stephen Duckett2

  1. HCF Research Foundation Professorial Fellow, Professor in Health Policy and Co-Director, Menzies Centre for Health Policy, University of Sydney
  2. Director, Health Program, Grattan Institute and Emeritus Professor of Health Policy at La Trobe University

The severe reduction in elective surgery during the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in a backlog of Australians waiting for elective procedures. This backlog and the nature of many elective surgery procedures has raised questions as to whether many of the procedures that didn’t happen were necessary and how changes to health policy may improve health system efficiency.

A recent article in the Conversation by Professors Adam Elshaug and Dr Stephen Duckett note that there has now been a steady stream of work which suggests many procedures don’t provide any benefits to patients. These procedures, or interventions, are called low- or no value health care, where the risk of harm to the patient exceeds the likely benefit. Professors Elshaug and Duckett argue that Australia’s elective procedure system after the pandemic should be different to before the pandemic, by dramatically reducing the number of low or no value procedures.

Reducing low or no value care will improve both health outcomes for patients and the efficiency of the health system. Low-value procedures can harm patients because of the risk of complications. Complications increase the amount of time patients spend in hospital. While there is a risk for some patients from stopping low-value care, others will benefit. The enforced break due to the COVID-19 response provides an opportunity to decrease the supply of low-value care, and to reassess and reorient to high value care.

Professors Elshaug and Duckett recommend that Australia take three immediate steps to reduce the amount of low-value procedures: 1) States and Territories should begin reporting rates of low-value care; 2) States and Territories should require all public hospitals to take steps to limit low-value care; and 3) the Commonwealth government should legislate to empower private insurers to address the issue of low-value care provided in private hospitals.

This is an unprecedented opportunity to bring about a change in health policy.

Further details can be found in the Conversation article at:

Photo by JAFAR AHMED on Unsplash