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Optometry rates highly in Australian consumer healthcare scorecard

A new consumer snapshot of the Australian health industry has shown that satisfaction is highest for optometry among all disciplines, with the profession also scoring highly in terms of affordability, ease-of-access to care and visitation rates. 

Meanwhile, the Health Insights Special Report (Part 1), commissioned by NAB bank and published in late 2023, found specialist doctors, including ophthalmologists, harder to see and more expensive than a year ago. 

The way Australian consumers perceive and experience healthcare was revealed in NAB’s 12th annual report that surveyed a representative sample of more than 1,000 Australians aged 18 years and above.

The report detailed the way Australian consumers perceive and experience healthcare. Image: NAB.

The overall health system scored 6.5 points out of 10 (where 10 is completely satisfied), and 37% were ‘very’ satisfied (scoring eight or higher). 

In 2023, satisfaction was highest for optometrists (8.4 vs 8.5 a year ago), followed by chiropractors, osteopaths and physiotherapists, private hospitals, pharmacies, dentists, other health providers and vets. It was lowest for public hospitals psychologists and psychiatrists, and GPs.

While access to care remained generally good, the report found this does vary significantly by practitioner type and had worsened in several cases over the past year. Australians believed it was still “very easy” to see or use a pharmacy (8.8 vs 8.9 a year ago), optometrist (unchanged at 8.5), vet, chiropractor, and osteopath and physiotherapist. 

But Australians reported it was only “moderately easy” to see or use a specialist doctor (6.5 vs 7.0).

Despite the economic headwinds of 2023, there was a sizeable increase in Australians visiting an optometrist in the past 12 months (35%, up from 28% in 2022), as well as a smaller increase in the proportion who visited a specialist doctor (28%, up from 24% in 2022). 

Optometry was also considered one of the most affordable health disciplines. The profession scored 7.5 out of 10, with public hospitals unsurprisingly rated the highest (8.3), followed by pharmacies (7.6) and GPs (7.5). 

An analysis of the optometry affordability figures showed it was rated highly among almost all demographics, even regional consumers, low income earners and the over 65 age bracket. The 18-24 age bracket rated optometry affordability the lowest at 6.2 out of 10, but this was still at or above the average of some other disciplines.

Specialist doctors were rated among the least affordable providers (6.1 vs 6.4 a year ago), alongside vets (5.1), psychologists & psychiatrists (5.9), and dentists (6.2).

The report noted during the past two to three years, 14% of Australians switched GP because they were dissatisfied in some way, and around one in 10 (8%) changed their dentist. Far fewer (5%) switched specialist doctor or pharmacy, and even fewer their optometrist (4%).

Mr John Avent, customer executive at NAB Health and Medfin, said the report contained “actionable data, together with unique insights”, to help health clinics inform the way they operate to meet the expectations of patients now and in future.

“Satisfaction with healthcare varied by region, with the number of very satisfied people higher in capital cities compared to those in regional cities. While this year’s survey found that GPs, pharmacies and dentists were again the most commonly visited practitioners, there has been a drop in visitations across several areas, including doctors and pharmacies,” he said. 

“Cost may be a factor here, with Australians reporting a deterioration in affordability for most providers compared with last year. Access to care, too, may play a role in the fall in visitations. While access is still generally good, it has worsened in a number of cases over the year, in particular for public hospitals and psychologists and psychiatrists.”  

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