Testing whether a Medicare rebate for adolescent health checks would improve outcomes

An investigation to determine if a specially targeted Medicare rebate would support increased annual health assessments of young people is underway, through the RAd (Rebate for Adolescent health assessment) health trial.

Researchers in the Melbourne School of Population and Global Health (led by Professor Jane Hocking) and the Department of General Practice (led by Professor Lena Sanci) are conducting a cluster randomised controlled trial in general practice that is aiming to improve the health of adolescents and young people.

Over the two-year trial period, 50 GP clinics across Victoria will be recruited and randomised to either the intervention or control arm. The intervention group will be able to claim a rebate payment, similar to that available for a 45-49 year old or 75+ years health assessment, for each young person’s health check conducted, one per eligible patient per year. Both groups will receive training and resources.

The researchers believe the Australian primary health care system is not set up to provide timely health checks and risk assessments for young people and then intervene where need is identified, despite early attention to health concerns being critical to creating positive outcomes.

“We want to test whether an age-based health check would be useful and cost-effective at increasing the detection and management of risk behaviours and health conditions among young people between 14-24 years old,” Professor Hocking says.

“People will be familiar with 45-49 or 75+ health checks, and it’s reasonable to think a similar kind of universal check for young people as they enter adolescence and early adulthood would be helpful,” she says.

“Especially as we know it’s during this time when people are still maturing that they may engage in potentially risky behaviours, such as using alcohol, tobacco and other drugs, or commencing sexual relationships. This is also a time when mental health issues can begin to emerge, things like eating disorders, and self-harm. With mental health in particular, it’s so important for early intervention to happen.”

If the RAd (Rebate for Adolescent health assessment) health trial shows a universal screening assessment does improve outcomes, the researchers will make a recommendation to health policymakers that a specific Medicare rebate payment could support doctors and nurses to undertake annual health assessments with young people.

To be eligible to participate in the trial, a clinic must see a minimum of 600 young people (aged 14-24 years) each year and use either Best Practice or Medical Director software.

Interested clinics should contact the research team at: rad-health@unimelb.edu.au

More about the trial here.

First published on 25 January 2023.

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