As debate swirls at a state and national level on the most cost-effective way to provide a universal health service, award winning Griffith research has found Australians are clearly averse to paying for emergency health care.

The findings were part of a PhD thesis by Mr Paul Harris from Griffith Health’s Population and Social Health Research Program. Mr Harris was presented with a national award for best PhD research paper by Health Services Research Association of Australia and New Zealand (HSRAANZ) at a ceremony in Sydney late last week.

“International evidence shows that more than half of all visits to Emergency Departments (EDs) are classified as non-emergencies, but our research indicates Australians make different choices depending on the situation and generally prefer to access a GP for less urgent problems,” Mr Harris says.

However, nearly all the (over 1800) respondents to Mr Harris’ research demonstrated a consistent aversion to a co-payment to access emergency or primary care alternatives.

“Even paying $1 towards the cost of care resulted in a significant reaction which increased with every minute of waiting. This suggests many people will not support such reforms if introduced in the future and for some it may influence their preparedness to seek medical care.”

It has been well-established in many studies that delaying care can have negative health outcomes for patients and result in more complex and expensive care in the long term.

“Governments looking to reduce healthcare budgets need to be mindful of ingrained public perceptions of quality healthcare and the different scenarios which drive those expectations,” says Mr Harris. “The worst outcome would be people turning away from care when they really need it.”

He also surveyed subjects to find if they’d use other services, like Britain’s new Emergency Care Practitioners, who can treat emergencies in the home but are not doctors.

“No matter the condition, Australians wanted to see a doctor and want quality care and seem quite emphatic about it — and are prepared to wait to see the doctor opposed to being treated sooner by an expert nurse or paramedic,” he said. “People want that reassurance.”

Mr Harris believes extraordinary support is the reason his research has been so well-received.

“The quality of the research is the result of our industry partnerships (including Queensland and South Australian Health policy professionals and clinicians and other researcher partners). Without them we could never have created such relevant work.”

Mr Harris is a registered psychologist and former manager at Queensland Health, he will complete his PhD in January thanks to an APAI scholarship through the Australian Research Council.