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By Kirsty Machon
Journalist

 

Hair sampling check

Optometrists and other registered health professionals with conditions on their registration for drug- or alcohol-related misuse will now be required to undergo quarterly hair sampling.

Practitioners with these conditions on their registration are already subject to random urine sampling.

The Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency has introduced the testing to obtain additional information about any drug use over a longer period.

The health practitioner will be required to pay for the cost of the testing, currently $825 plus GST per test.

TPP concerns

The Public Health Association of Australia (PHA) has expressed concern that the price of medicines containing biological products like proteins, such as bevacizumab (Avastin), could increase in the future, due to intellectual property clauses in the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal.

Innovative ‘biologics’ currently have five years of clinical trial data protection in Australia, after which products of a similar nature, called biosimilars, can be evaluated for approval.

The TPP permits countries to provide either eight years of data protection for new biologics, or five years plus measures to deliver a comparable market outcome. The PHA is concerned that the requirement for measures to deliver a ‘comparable outcome’ could place upward pressure on prices.

The Australian Government says it does not expect the cost of medicines to increase.

Bevacizumab is indicated on the PBS for the treatment of cancer but also used for conditions including diabetic macular oedema.

Vision aid support

Older people needing low vision technology may now be eligible to have the costs offset, with the Australian Government making funding of up to $1,000 available through the Commonwealth Home Support Program (CHSP).

The changes will be slower to come to Victoria and Western Australia, where the Home and Community Care program is still operational and is not included in the changes.

The CHSP supports people aged 65 years and older who need assistance to live independently in the community. Clients will now be able to access up to $500 per year for the cost of low vision assistance technologies. This amount may be increased to $1,000 if a provider assesses this to be necessary.

VicOutreach optometry

Visiting Optometrists Scheme services will be provided through eight sites across Victoria where access to services has been identified as a concern.

The VicOutreach Optometry Scheme is administered through the Rural Workforce Agency Victoria (RWAV).

Sites selected for funding in 2015-2016 following a needs analysis are: Boort/Pyramid Hill, Mansfield, Euroa/Nagambie, Foster, Benalla, Seymour, Timboon/Cobden and Edenhope. The RWAV is continuing to identify new providers interested in providing outreach services and expects this will soon be finalised.

Iridology rebate questioned

A Federal Department of Health review has found no evidence to support the use of a number of natural therapies, including iridology and homeopathy, for which private health insurance rebates are currently available.

The previous Labor government initiated the review to identify treatments and interventions that are not clinically supported or cost-effective, but are eligible for a private health insurance rebate under general treatment ancillary tables. More than $40 million was paid in these rebates in 2014.

Iridologists claim that examining a person’s iris can provide information about general health or disease. The department’s reviewers found no systematic reviews of iridology conducted within the past 10 years, and no clinical studies to support it. For homeopathy, they found no compelling evidence and a ‘paucity’ of good quality studies.

The Federal Minister for Health, Sussan Ley, said this report will be considered alongside the outcomes of activities currently underway to review consumer satisfaction with the private health insurance industry.

Regulatory framework review

 A report prepared for the Department of Health has recommended that the Australian Government consider making some changes to the regulatory frameworks for medicines, therapeutic goods, and medical devices like contact lenses.

The report’s authors say that while Australia generally has a high quality regulatory environment, protecting the safety of consumers, there may be opportunities to cut bureaucracy and facilitate speedier access to some kinds of medicines and health devices.

One of the recommendations is that the government look at the suitability of current advertising arrangements for schedule 3 (pharmacy-only) medicines, which cannot currently be marketed directly to consumers.

The report also suggests an examination of the Special Access Scheme arrangements, which currently allow medical practitioners to access medicines or formulations of medicines not approved for use in Australia, to see whether the system can be streamlined.

It is not uncommon for a particular formulation of a product, such as a dry eye treatment, to be unavailable in Australia due to a commercial decision, disadvantaging patients who may benefit from that product.

Privacy pitfalls

A small-scale audit of general practices by the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner has identified several ways that health practices may be putting patient privacy at risk, and made some simple recommendations for addressing concerns.

The October audit related primarily to the use of Personally Controlled Health Records, not yet significantly accessed in optometric practices. However, many of the privacy issues identified have generic applicability for practices using electronic patient health management systems.

Concerns included inadequate password protection, inconsistent training and induction, and outdated policy and procedure manuals.

Not all practices were conducting risk assessments for communication technology systems and they may not be aware of potential vulnerabilities.

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