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Original Research

Access to Medicare-funded annual comprehensive health assessments for rural people with intellectual disability

Submitted: 29 June 2012
Revised: 16 April 2013
Accepted: 17 April 2013
Published: 17 August 2013

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Author(s) : Burton H, Walters L.

Heather BurtonLucie Walters

Citation: Burton H, Walters L.  Access to Medicare-funded annual comprehensive health assessments for rural people with intellectual disability. Rural and Remote Health (Internet) 2013; 13: 2278. Available: (Accessed 19 October 2017)


Introduction:††People with intellectual disability (ID) comprise 2-3% of the Australian population. They mostly rely on their GP for primary health care. In rural areas where there are issues with health workforce shortages, there is a risk that people with ID may not get timely access to primary care or may not be aware of the range of healthcare services available to support them. Internationally, research has shown that regular health assessments are beneficial for people with ID. Annual comprehensive health assessments (ACHAs) have been shown to result in increased detection of medical conditions and could assist in reducing the gap in mortality between people with ID and the broader population. In Australia, people with ID have been eligible to access ACHAs under Medicare since 2007. These provide for a regular review of the personís physical, psychological and social functioning. This study explored the extent to which rural people with ID were accessing these ACHAs, and factors which affected their access to ACHAs.
Methods:††In this qualitative study in-depth interviews were conducted with 18†participants including people with ID, carers/support workers and rural doctors. Interviews were then coded and analysed for themes.
Results:††Seven themes were identified: (1)†healthcare barriers in rural areas; (2)†cohesion of rural communities; (3)†the way rural doctors practice; (4)†lack of knowledge/understanding; (5)†venturing into new territory; (6)†the role of the practice nurse; and (7)†the health communication triangle.
Conclusion:††Despite the well-known problems of lack of services and distance to specialists in rural Australia, there are compensatory factors which were perceived as improving the wellbeing of people with ID, such as increased social cohesion and community connectedness.†More education is needed to ensure that the rationale for ACHAs for people with ID is understood and that doctors feel confident to use them. The number of Medicare reforms implemented in a relatively short period presented change-management challenges for rural practices with rural workforce pressures. The role of the carer/support worker is crucial in the health assessment process and can improve the transfer of information about a client with ID between the disability and health sectors and within the health sector.

Key words: Australia, community, developmental disability, general practice, health assessments, health planning, intellectual disability, primary health care, rural.

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