Live Better

Health of the nation – Steve Hambleton

We explore the health of the nation from six leaders from six health organisations.

The Australian Medical Association (AMA) represents the registered medical practitioners and medical students of Australia. The AMA is focused on promoting and protecting the professional interests of doctors and the healthcare needs of the community.

Describe your role

I am the President of the AMA, the peak membership organisation representing doctors to ensure they have a voice in delivering healthcare and healthcare reform.

In your opinion what are the biggest health challenges in Australia?

It has been said that our health system is perfectly designed to get the results it needs. The problem is, it was designed to meet the needs of a different set of problems. Our demographic has shifted, we now have an ageing population with chronic and complex health needs.

We are currently focused on acute care needs, which we do very well. If you are going to get seriously unwell, Australia is a great place to do it. You will get world-class care. Real reform must be about recognising the changing needs of our society and redesigning the system to meet these new challenges.

For example, Australians today are far more likely to survive a heart attack than they were a decade ago. As a result, more Australians are now living with coronary heart disease and the disability that follows an attack. Let’s not wait for the heart attack and the ambulance. Let’s fix the lifestyle and prevent the heart attack instead.

In your opinion what are the biggest health opportunities in Australia?

At this stage there is a big opportunity to shift the focus from managing sickness to encouraging wellness. As we know hospital care is very expensive. It is far preferable to keep people from ever getting there with health maintenance and prevention programs. There is a bigger bang for the health buck in primary care.

General Practice is the cornerstone of primary care and a preventative team led by a GP can make a huge difference. It is high quality, comprehensive, and value for money. 

What is the AMA doing to improve the health of Australia?

The AMA advocates on behalf of its members and the community by working with governments to maintain world class medical care in Australia, lobbying for reform in the health care system, leading the policy debate and providing expert medical commentary.

If you were Prime Minister for a day what would be the top three things you would do to improve the health of Australia?

Focus on good communication – health care of the patient is best served when the doctor has access to the most basic information that is critical to patient care. To treating doctors, e-health means being able to access all of the clinically relevant medical information about a patient at the time of diagnosis or treatment. The AMA wants to see the benefits of e-health flow on to efficient and effective patient care.

Invest in hospitals – our public hospitals must be strongly supported with funding and resources. As much as we are very good at acute healthcare, we can improve, and our number of beds per emergency patients is low by international standards.

Primary healthcare focus – forming a relationship with your GP is an important step to take in shifting our healthcare focus from managing sickness to promoting wellness. Proposals should be moving us toward a joined-up, strengthened primary healthcare system built on team-based solutions. Any policy or proposal that does not work towards this goal should be shelved.

Based on your role, knowledge and experience what advice do you have for Australians to improve their health?

It’s all about the basics. A combination of the right nutrition and exercise – 30 minutes, three times per week is good, 60 minutes, three times per week is even better. Focus on things that you can modify where evidence demonstrates that making a change can have a significant impact on your health. The two biggest things I would suggest are quitting smoking and limiting your alcohol intake.

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