Many Australians shun expensive specialist visits

Peter Terlato 23 May 2017 NEWS

medical specialist

Out-of-pocket costs are up 33% over the last five years.

New research reveals a significant proportion of Australians who were referred to a medical specialist in 2016 didn't end up seeing the doctor because they felt the costs were too high.

A study by finder.com.au found around two fifths (41%) of patients referred to a specialist skipped out on these visits, citing costly fees and out-of-pocket expenses.

The survey, which analysed responses from more than 2,000 Australians, revealed women (47%) were far likelier than men (35%) to have avoided a specialist visit due to cost issues.

In 2009/10 average out-of-pocket expenses for specialist and consultant physician consultations for Aussie households was $325. In 2016, this figure rose (33%) to $488 per year.

Comparing different Australian states, residents of Western Australia (49%) were most inclined to dodge a specialist visit because of the cost. Queenslanders (45%) weren't far behind, followed by those in New South Wales (40%) and Victoria (38%). South Australians (34%) were least likely of all to skirt the specialist.

Australian's are plagued by a wide degree of variance in the costs and treatments of eight common medical procedures, according to a report by the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons and Medibank.

For example, the Surgical Variance Report 2017 found colonoscopies cost between $1,153 and $6,308, leaving Aussies, on average, $272 out-of-pocket. One third (32%) of patients were discharged same day.

"From this data we can see there’s a lot of variability in the length of the hospital stay, which may be the result of factors beyond the patient’s characteristics," Medibank chief medical officer Dr Linda Swan said.

Each week finder.com.au offers up a summary of the latest developments impacting Australian healthcare and most importantly, you, the consumer. Check in every Thursday to find out what's happening in health.

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