Chronic disease covers a wide range of chronic and complex conditions. Some of the more common chronic diseases experienced by people in Australia are cardiovascular disease, diabetes, chronic kidney disease, musculoskeletal conditions such as back pain or osteoarthritis, mental ill-health and respiratory diseases such as asthma.
Chronic diseases contribute heavily to poor health and wellbeing and are a major source of health costs for government and individuals. They are recognised as the major cause of illness, disability and death in Australia.
It is important that care coordinators and those responsible for commissioning health services have a good understanding of the contribution allied health practitioners can make to the prevention, treatment and management of chronic diseases. Allied health professional expertise and skills can transform the lives of people with chronic conditions – improving health and wellbeing, maintaining independence and avoiding preventable complications.
Allied health and chronic disease
Allied health professionals from a range of disciplines have essential roles in the prevention, management and treatment of chronic disease. They have the specialised knowledge, skills and enabling approach that allows people with chronic conditions to live well and reduce the impact and long term consequences of these conditions.
Allied health professionals have expertise in working with individuals to promote self-management skills with a focus on optimising wellness and health independence. These skills are essential for people to participate fully in the management of their chronic disease condition.
For people with more complex chronic conditions allied health professionals can play important care planning and coordinator roles. Allied health disciplines have a long tradition of coordination of resources, working in collaboration with others and forming multidisciplinary teams. Many allied health professionals may have advanced skills that allow them to contribute to the management of more severe and complex chronic diseases.
Common chronic diseases
Allied health practitioners are likely to be involved in the appropriate treatment of any chronic disease. Due to the range of different chronic diseases people may experience, it is difficult to provide comprehensive information for each condition and we recommend referring to resources such as the websites linked below.
However, in addition to our dedicated pages for musculoskeletal health and mental health, AHPA and its member associations have developed information for people with Type 2 diabetes and osteoarthritis that outline the roles of allied health professionals involved in the care of these conditions.
Type 2 diabetes
Appropriate management of type 2 diabetes should involve a range of allied health professionals. Diabetes educators, dietitians and in some cases exercise physiologists may provide regular and ongoing support, while others such as podiatrists or optometrists would normally provide annual checkups to monitor any potential side effects from the condition.
Appropriate management of osteoarthritis, in common with other musculoskeletal conditions, will involve several different allied health professions such as chiropractics, physiotherapy and osteopathy to optimize function, mobility, strength and manage pain.
Accessing allied health care
For people with chronic conditions, access to appropriate allied health care can make a significant difference by improving their health and wellbeing and reducing the long term impact of their condition. Medicare funding can help meet the cost of accessing allied health services for a chronic disease. To access Medicare rebates your GP must complete a GP management plan and establish appropriate team care arrangements. You can also access Medicare rebates for allied health services if you are enrolled as a Health Care Home patient.
Private health insurance covers some allied health services, but the level of rebate and allied health services covered will depend on the individual policy and level of cover. If Medicare or private health insurance rebates do not cover the cost of the allied health service, there will be an out-of-pocket expense. Although there may be a cost to the individual, allied health services are an important part of the treatment for chronic conditions and can help reduce serious long term complications. AHPA actively advocates for increased public funding of these services and encourages individuals to see their use as an investement in their own health.
Allied health services may also be available through community health services, or local programs funded by Primary Health Networks. These typically prioritise people who may not be able to afford the cost of services.