National Primary Health Care Strategic Framework

Strategic Outcome 3: Take action to tackle the social determinants of health and wellbeing with emphasis on health promotion, prevention, screening and early intervention

Page last updated: April 2013

Individual and community wellbeing is promoted through a systematic approach at national, state and local levels to factors impacting on health status and better health outcomes.

Potential Actions

3.1 Identify ways to address the social determinants of health - such as social status, geographic location, health literacy, housing, education, employment and access to health services - which contribute to poor health outcomes.

There is a range of factors that contribute to a person’s health and wellbeing. Many of these factors lie outside the health system. For example:

  • education and employment are major determinants of the opportunity for families and individuals to maximise their health and wellbeing;
  • transport and road infrastructure can be a significant factor on the ability to access essential health care services;
  • suitable housing, access to clean water and fresh food are essential to maintaining good health; and
  • a person’s literacy levels as well as their socio-economic position impacts on how well they can interact with the health system. Top of page
There are programs in place that address these issues. The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education Action Plan 2010-14 focuses on inter-sectoral collaboration around hearing health, young parents and integrated early childhood services. Other examples include: Community Engagement Officers who provide support to the homeless and those at risk of homelessness (Commonwealth Department of Human Services); and refugee health support programs such as the Refugee Health Nurse Program (Department of Health, Victoria), Refugee Health Program (Northern Territory Medicare Local), Bi-Cultural Community Health Program (Department of Health and Human Services, Tasmania).

Raising awareness of health impacts from other policy domains and taking a multi-sectoral approach to tackle those issues can improve population health and reduce the growing economic burden of the health care system. Consideration of the social determinants of health will also bridge the gap in health inequalities, as outlined in Strategic Outcome 2.

A whole of government approach at all levels is required in addressing the social determinants of health to achieve better health outcomes and to ensure policy and planning decisions appropriately consider potential implications on health. This necessarily requires governments to promote the engagement and involvement of organisations and service providers beyond the health sector and development of appropriate care pathways to address clients’ social and welfare needs. Top of page

3.2 Target known lifestyle-related health risk factors, such as alcohol consumption, sun exposure, smoking, physical inactivity, poor diet and nutrition, and unsafe sexual practices.

This action leverages existing Commonwealth-State collaboration in preventive health through the National Partnership Agreement on Preventive Health. It will enhance the capacity of Medicare Locals to support population level approaches in primary health care, including preventive health, along with other organisations that have a major role in population level approaches and local planning.

It will also include working with the Australian National Preventive Health Agency (ANPHA) and supporting its role in identifying and developing best-practice interventions for health promotion and prevention. Activity will need to be implemented locally as part of integrated primary health care services. This will ultimately support the development and promotion of prevention-focused referral pathways and the implementation of locally relevant models of care.

In targeting risk factors and addressing health prevention, the role of allied health professionals should not be overlooked. For example, pharmacists and community services are well placed to participate in prevention, screening, early intervention and can assist in health self-management. Top of page

3.3 Undertake research and evaluation to identify the best use of new technologies and enable increasing use of home based monitoring, treatment and support.

In the context of technological advances, policy makers, funders and providers need to examine the best options available for providing home based monitoring, care and support that are based on research and evaluation.

Governments will make use of improved technology, including the National Broadband Network, eHealth and telehealth, to promote early intervention and monitoring to address health risks identified by Medicare Local and state needs assessments. This includes encouraging the use of technologies such as home monitoring applications which enable primary health care services to undertake remote monitoring of lifestyle and risk factors of consumers, and allow them to focus on those with chronic illnesses or those at risk of emergency care.

Social media, which has become increasingly integrated into everyday life, will also play an important role in patient treatment and support. For example, social media could be better used for messaging, management of self-care, patient recall and check-up services. To maximise opportunities presented by these new technologies it will be important to support communications and information technology literacy among target populations.

This action will enable service providers to analyse the seriousness of risks and determine appropriate interventions to ensure individuals at risk of deteriorating health to receive early and targeted care.