health & medical marketing

Jun 30, 2010


Companies flogging cold and flu treatments may be encouraging the spread of infections because their advertising is encouraging people to soldier on, rather than keeping themselves and their viruses tucked away at home.

So says Dr Harry Hemley, president of the Australian Medical Association Victoria. He writes:

“I’m getting increasingly irritated by direct to consumer advertising for cold and flu treatments. These companies are encouraging the spread of infection throughout the community with possibly devastating consequences.

Every winter we are bombarded with advertisements from consumer healthcare companies telling us to abandon common sense and continue with or regular, fast-paced lives when we have a nasty cold or the flu. There’s no need to take a sick day, we’re told, when you can just pop a pill and get back on with it. Continue reading “Why advertising for cold and flu treatments makes me sick (and you as well)”

health reform

Jun 29, 2010


Health policy, let’s be honest, is a turn off for most media managers and editors. Given a choice between a cancer breakthrough (even if it is only in rats) and a change to how health services are delivered or financed, you know which one will get the splash.

Who can blame them, really. Health policy is confusing – it’s difficult to ever confidently say that doing X will cause Y – and it’s made even more so by the strife of interests that dominates policymaking and public debate.

So it’s not really at all surprising that a recent study of media coverage of health care reform in the US found most media reports tended to focus on the biff rather than the policy issues.

But one trouble with this, as the study suggests, is that media coverage can exacerbate public confusion about important policy issues, rather than helping to clarify them and contribute to an informed community.

The study, released by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism and available in full here, involved more than 5,500 health care stories in the mainstream media from June 2009 through March 2010. Continue reading “Problems with media coverage of health policy…and some suggested solutions”

dental care

Jun 28, 2010


Get rid of the private health insurance subsidies and focus on primary health care and prevention, mental health, rural health and other under-served areas.

Listen to the wisdom of regional communites rather than central bureaucrats, and rethink some elements of the national health reform agenda.

And it would be wonderful if you could help kick start a national conversation that moves us beyond a focus on hospitals to tackling the social determinants of health.

Those are some of the tips for the new PM when she gets a chance to turn her attention to a portfolio she knows well.

Thanks to the Croakey contributors below for helping compile a health briefing note for Julia Gillard. Continue reading “Some expert health tips for the new PM”

child health

Jun 25, 2010


The Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Program has been given a rave review by an evaluation conducted in Victorian schools, which shows the effects are wide-ranging and extend way beyond simply encouraging healthy eating.

The benefits included engaging children in learning, increasing their willingness to try new foods, and improving their knowledge, confidence and skills around cooking and gardening.

The program was considered particularly effective at engaging ‘non-academic learners’ and children with challenging behaviours. The researchers suggested the program may address “health inequities in a way that is difficult to achieve in health promotion programs”, although further research was needed to confirm this finding.

The school social environment and community connections were also improved. “The program was often described as transformational for the school,” the evaluation noted. Continue reading “Rave review for Stephanie Alexander kitchen garden program”


Jun 24, 2010


Industry forces are combining to resist moves for healthier labelling of foods, reports Dr Catriona Bonfiglioli. She writes:

“The pressure is on to curb marketing of high-energy foods and drinks to children and for all foods and drinks to be labelled in ways which help people choose healthier diets – ideally with traffic light colours. The strength of this pressure can be measured by the gathering resistance among food and drink manufacturers and retailers’ organisations.

The most visible resistance in Australia so far appears to be an outbreak of baby-blue labels on the front of packages which regurgitate the information available on the back in the compulsory nutrition information panels (NIPs) in terms of ‘guideline daily amounts’ (GDAs).

It doesn’t take a semiotician to work out that blue is industry’s preferred colour because it is soft and reassuring and quite unlike the scary red lights proclaiming DANGER! STOP! which would be smothering many popular and profitable energy dense products if public health professionals had their way. Continue reading “The push for better food labelling is creating unhealthy alliances”

environmental health

Jun 24, 2010


The daily e-newsletter for doctors, 6Minutes, suggests that the new PM did not mention health in her first press conference. Actually, I think she did. I’d rank education and climate change as two of the more important health issues around.

It’s a reminder that we continue to confuse health services with the population’s health. Of course health services are important but they are only one of the determinants of health.

Don’t take my word for it. Have a look at this new report from the College of Physicians in the UK, titled “How doctors can close the gap: Tackling the social determinants of health through culture change, advocacy and education”. Continue reading “Isn’t climate change a health issue?”

Health inequalities

Jun 24, 2010


One of the many ironies about Kevin Rudd’s health reform agenda was that he took a controlling, centralised approach to instituting what was billed as developing “local control” for health services.

There is a widespread view around the traps that the health reform agenda began to head off the rails when Rudd, his staffers and Department took over the process.

Much of the useful work that had already been done, including by the National Health and Hospitals Reform Commission, was sidelined and one key concern about our health system – the lack of equity as highlighted in a recent Croakey series – seemed to have disappeared from the table.

A more equitable and efficient health system relies on a far greater focus and investment in primary health care and public health. But the PM’s political priorities were focused firmly on hospitals.

The latest report card of Australia’s health, released yesterday by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, shows that a continuing focus on hospitals as the supremos of the health sector will result in a system that cannot be sustained in to the future.

The report (ages 484 and 485) says in 2007-08 there were 2 million attendances at public hospital emergency departments that could have potentially been avoided through the provision of appropriate non hospital services in the community. From 2002-03 to 2007-08, for every 1,000 people, there were 33.6 admissions to hospitals that could have been potentially prevented through the provision of appropriate non-hospital health services.

What will the change of leadership mean for health reform?

While we wait for the answers to this question, many will be thinking back to Gillard’s time as opposition spokeswoman on health and ageing, when Abbott was health minister. She was an effective match for him then, in both policy and political terms.

Don’t mistake me; I am not arguing that the business of health, or health reform, should be left entirely to health ministers. We hear, ad nauseam, that the greatest gains in health require efforts not only across jurisdictions, but also across governments. Many of the solutions for improving the community’s mental health may not lie within the domain of the health minister, for example.

The question is not whether the new PM should be closely involved in health reform; it’s how she does it that matters.

PostScript (12.45pm): Having just watched the new PM’s first press conference, two comments of particular relevance for health. Her commitment to every child having quality access to education, and to stressing the importance of quality government services for the less well off.

Update (5.45pm): I missed the first part of the departing PM’s speech, so missed his comments about health. This report is from the 6Minutes newsletter, which says Kevin Rudd cited his government’s health reforms and investments in cancer services as among his proudest achievements. He said he was “really proud” of the deep health reforms he had initiated, and the National Health and Hospital Networks in particular. He was especially proud of the government’s new investments in cancer services, and also singled out the creation of a new National Transplant Donation  Authority as one of his  major achievements, citing his own aortic valve transplant as making this of personal as well as political significance to him.

conflicts of interest

Jun 23, 2010


This is the third and final post in a series looking at how and why unfairness is built into the health system. Perhaps if there were deliberate efforts to increase transparency at multiple levels and points in the system, this might help to tackle some systemic inequities.

Below a range of Croakey contributors identify key areas where they would like to see greater transparency.

Professor Judith Dwyer, Flinders University:

“I’d like to see a world in which stakeholders representing their own interests declared that interest before they made self-interested statements about population health impacts. I’d like to see a genuine legal and governance separation between public health care providers and their government funders. Transparency in purchasing decisions by health authorities, and distance from the political process would bring advantages for quality and efficiency.” Continue reading “Why we need a more transparent health system…it might be fairer, for starters”

dental care

Jun 23, 2010


Following on from the previous post, which looked at why equity matters, this post makes it clear that inequity is built into our health system in many ways and at many levels.

A range of Croakey contributors have provided examples of health inequities. Because the inequities in Indigenous health are so well known, I asked them to include examples from other areas. Of course many of the examples they give are general and are an issue for all Australians, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous.

Carol Bennett, Consumers Health Forum:

“Try seeing a psychiatrist if you live in Gippsland, then try seeing one if you live in Surrey Hills in Melbourne.  The ratio of psychiatrists to population in Surrey hills is roughly 100 times greater than the ratio of psychiatrists to population in Morwell. Professor Patrick McGorry should know that most of his peers choose to go where the living is easy while those with real mental health needs languish on the fringes.

Mental versus physical health is another area of inequity.  It seems that if you have a chest pain or a tumour growing somewhere, the best of care will be provided to you.  But if you suicidal you are most likely to be told to go away and come back when you have hurt yourself or someone else!”

*** Continue reading “How unfairness is built in to our health system”

Health inequalities

Jun 23, 2010


An exam paper for a health subject recently asked second-year university students to define equity. “It’s the amount of possessions you have,” was one reply.

I heard this story today but wish I’d heard it yesterday. It would have been good to include in a talk that I gave to an Australian Institute of Health and Welfare dinner last night, which argued that the health sector needs a major injection of transparency to help reduce inequities, in both health outcomes and health care.

The dinner was marking today’s launch of the Institute’s latest report card on Australia’s health, which shows, as you’d expect, significant health gaps between the haves and have nots.

Much of the talk was based upon suggestions from Croakey contributors, whom I’d asked to define equity and why it matters, for examples of inequities in health, and for areas requiring greater transparency.

You can read their responses in this and the following two posts. Continue reading “Does anyone care about the inequities in health?”