Study finds Aussies afraid to bother doctors with ‘silly questions’

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A new study has shown Australians don't think they're being supported enough by health professionals in the lead up to and following hospital admissions. Source: Getty

New Australian research has found many Aussie patients are struggling to understand the hospital system, with many claiming it’s harder to navigate than buying a home.

The research, commissioned by Medibank and carried out by ACA Research between December 2018 and January 2019, found as many as 31 per cent of patients don’t want to bother their doctor or healthcare specialist with “silly questions” and that 39 per cent of Australians turn to Google to assist them instead.

The 10-minute online survey quizzed adult Australians who have been in hospital in the past 12 months and found 45 per cent didn’t think there was enough support provided for those going to hospital. The results found 81 per cent of people felt unwanted stress, 54 per cent experienced confusion, 10 per cent felt feelings of isolation and 58 per cent said the lack of support impacted their mental and physical health.

“It was from this research that we learned that patients want more support in the lead up to and following hospital admissions,” Linda Swan, Medibank Chief Medical Officer told Starts at 60. “This is just the latest in a range of positive changes, and we look forward to making further improvements over the coming months.”

In addition, 50 per cent of patients explained that they spend more than three hours seeking help and advice about their upcoming hospital admission and as many as one in four people spend five or more hours trying to obtain the information they require.

“We know from our research that the majority (60 per cent) of patients aged 60-plus felt the ‘unknowns’, i.e. not knowing what to expect or what the process is, led to them feeling stressed and confused about going to hospital,” Swan explained. “Additionally, nearly two in three (62 per cent) patients aged 60-plus said that feeling informed about the process every step of the way, and having their questions answered whenever they needed (56 per cent) would help them feel more at ease about an upcoming hospital stay. This shows there’s a clear desire from patients of this age group to receive more support in the lead up to and following hospital appointments.”

One in five patients in the study said they weren’t sure how to prepare for their hospital treatment or procedure, while 21 per cent were confused about how to manage pain relief or medicine in in their recovery. Similarly, a further 21 per cent said they didn’t know which foods to include or exclude from their diet, while 19 per cent said they weren’t sure how to prepare their home for discharge.

“It’s clear that there are a number of unknowns when it comes to a hospital admission – from the process and logistics surrounding a hospital stay, to the management of your health following discharge — with many patients turning to the internet for answers,” Swan said. “We know from our research that patients are calling for more support in the lead up and following hospital admissions.”

In response to the findings, Medibank has launched a new support program for members called Hospital Assist. The program brings together a range of new and existing services to form one comprehensive support program that includes a health concierge phone service, a digital concierge for online assistance and a 24/7 health advice phone line.

“Those over the age of 75 who are living with a chronic health condition are already more vulnerable to hospital readmission, which is why they’re a particular focus in the Medibank Hospital Assist program,” Swan explained. “Members who fall into this cohort and meet the eligibility criteria are proactively contacted by Medibank Health Concierge staff, who give them a call to discuss their questions and help ease their mind.”

The program is said to benefit patients going to hospital for low-risk procedures, as well as those with high health needs or undergoing surgery or treatment for serious health conditions. The data is also helping Medibank offer even more support to patients needing hospital treatment.

“Currently, we’re investigating expansions within postpartum support and mental health admissions.” Swan added. “We’re also looking to expand the depth of our offering to assist members in navigating the health system, ensuring they are accessing the care they need and with cost transparency.”

It follows research released last year by Monash University that found the biggest cause of hospital admissions for elderly Victorians was hip and thigh fractures, followed by injuries to the head.

The study found that hip and thigh bone breaks accounted for 18.2 per cent of all injuries which resulted in aged care residents being admitted for treatment. Fractures were also found to be more than twice as common among patients with a diagnosis of dementia.

What are your thoughts on this research? Have you found it difficult to understand the hospital system before undergoing surgery or a medical procedure?

Important information: The information provided on this website is of a general nature and information purposes only. It does not take into account your personal health requirements or existing medical conditions. It is not personalised health advice and must not be relied upon as such. Before making any decisions about your health or changes to medication, diet and exercise routines you should determine whether the information is appropriate in terms of your particular circumstances and seek advice from a medical professional.

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