How Australians feel about their own health: NAB Health Insights



In this episode of PodMD, NAB’s Head of Behavioural & Industry Economics Dean Pearson is here to discuss the second part of the NAB health special report.

To find out how healthy Australians are, NAB launched a three-part special report studying all aspects of Australians health and wellbeing.  The report provides actionable data, providing tangible insights to help inform practice owners, as they balance the expectations of their patients now and in the future. 

In ⁠part one⁠ NAB asked a large representative sample of health consumers across the country to tell them about their experiences with the health system.

The ⁠second part⁠ of the series details how Australians feel about their own health and what they think about the services being provided to them.

  • Transcript
    Please note this is a machine generated transcription and may contain some errors.
    *As always, all in this PODMD podcast is intended for health professionals and the comments are of a general nature. Information given is not intended as specific medical advice pertaining to any given patient. If you have a clinical issue with one of your patients please seek appropriate advice from a colleague with expertise in the area.

    Today I’d like to welcome to the PodMD studio Dean Pearson.

    To find out how healthy Australians are, NAB launched a three-part special report studying all aspects of Australians health and wellbeing. The report provides actionable data, providing tangible insights to help inform practice owners, as they balance the expectations of their patients now and in the future.

    In part one NAB asked a large representative sample of health consumers across the country to tell them about their experiences with the health system, exploring issues such as wait times, access, affordability, and overall satisfaction with health professionals and the system.

    The second part of the series details how Australians feel about their own health and what they think about the services being provided to them. Here to discuss part two is Dean Pearson NAB’s Head of Behavioural & Industry Economics and author of the NAB Health special report.

    Dean: Thank you for having me.

    Question 1
    The topic of today’s discussion is How Australians are feeling about their own health. Dean, So, how satisfied are Australians with their own health?

    Dean: Well overall I’d say Australians are “moderately” satisfied. When we asked them to rate their satisfaction, they scored on average around 6.6 pts out of 10. Encouragingly, around 4 in 10 of us scored our satisfaction “very high” while of concern 1 in 10 scored “very low”.

    Question 2
    What factors are influencing Australia’s health scores?

    Dean: Our survey results show that location, age, and income all contribute to Australia’s health scores.
    There were notable differences according to where people live in Australia. Overall satisfaction was highest in capital cities (6.8) and lowest in rural areas (6.1). Over 4 in 10 (42%) people in capitals scored their satisfaction very high, compared to 1 in 3 in regional cities and rural areas. Significantly more people in rural areas also scored their satisfaction very low (17% vs. 7% in regions and 8% in capital cities.

    Interestingly, among those health consumers living in rural areas, the number requiring ongoing treatment or medication for a medical condition rises to almost 6 in 10.

    Despite having a lower life expectancy, it is Australian men who (6.8) rated their satisfaction higher than women (6.5) and more men also scored it very high (42% vs. 36%).

    And while, younger Australians who are theoretically healthier based on demographics, they are scoring themselves the lowest when it comes to how healthy they think they are. What is even more surprising is its older Australians who rate themselves the highest. Young Australians 18-24 group (6.4) and highest among the over 65s (6.9). A much higher number in the over 65 age group – around 1 in 2 or 48% – scored their satisfaction very high compared to around 1 in 3 in all other age groups.

    Australians in the higher income group scored their satisfaction with their overall health much higher than in the lower income group (7.0 vs. 6.1), with a larger number also rating it very high (44% vs. 34%). Around 4 times as many people in the lower income group however scored very low (12% vs. 3%).

    Noticeably more Australians in the lower income group (61%) needing ongoing treatment or medication for a medical condition than in the higher income group (42%).

    Although it was nice to see in the recent budget the government is taking steps to address this. The government says it will spend $480.2 million over five years to improve access to and reduce the costs of a range of medicines. These measures include pausing indexation of PBS general co-payments in 2025 and concessional co-payments from 2025 through to 2029. The hope is this will help Aussies on a lower income afford the medications they need.

    Question 3
    With many of us requiring ongoing medical treatment, how well do Australians believe they understand their conditions and what’s required to best manage them and who do they believe is ultimately responsible for managing their health?

    Dean: Australians believe they have a good degree of understanding of their conditions and competency in managing them, particularly in areas such as what their prescribed medications do, following through on medical treatments at home, the nature and causes of their conditions and knowing when they need to get medical care and when they cannot handle a health problem themselves.

    And health consumers strongly believe they are ultimately responsible for managing their own health. I think this is an important finding.

    Clearly Governments and health bodies each have their own responsibility for health promotion and play roles that individuals cannot.

    But at a most basic level we the health consumer have a responsibility to promote and manage our own health.

    Question 4
    So, on that point, we know the pandemic prompted Australians to focus more closely on their health. Has this continued?

    Dean: Encouragingly, the number of Australians who told us they prioritised their health more over the past year actually increased to 44% (vs. 41% a year earlier), and only 10% prioritised less.

    This increased emphasis on health was most apparent among younger people aged 18-24 age group where the share who had given their health a greater priority rose sharply to 56% (44% in 2022).

    This goes to your earlier comment in regard to the changing nature of the healthcare consumer, by seeking a more pro-active approach to managing their health and wellness.
    Around 4 in 10 health consumers strongly believe they have a preventative health mindset.
    Good quality sleep and a healthy diet are seen as key preventative health behaviours along with having an active lifestyle, a good body weight, staying connected with family and friends and having regular check-ups & screenings.

    Question 5
    People are saying they are more interested in their own health and taking greater control of it? But how can we be sure this is happening?

    Dean: That’s a great question.
    David Ogilvy, the so called “Father of Advertising”) once famously said:
    “The problem with market research is that people don’t think how they feel, they don’t say what they think, and they don’t do what they say.”

    This “say-do gap” basically means people might say one thing, then do something completely different.

    Indeed, in our survey, over 1 in 2 Australians told us they failed to eat the recommended serving of vegetables, and this is the case irrespective of age or income.
    Just over 1 in 5 Australians currently smoke or vape (and this is more prevalent among lower income earners) and around 1 in 5 smokers believe vaping is less damaging to their health than cigarettes (with a similar number unsure).

    In addition, almost 1 in 2 Australians had not visited a dentist in the past year.
    But often there are lags between thoughts and action. People might want to do something but for whatever reason don’t.

    Question 6
    Well, how can people solve for this lag?

    Dean: As human beings we typically have a very strong emotional attachment to things we’re doing already. Whether it’s the products we’re using, services we engage in, or the ideas we have.

    So, we build logic around those things to support them. We look for information that supports our existing beliefs rather than disagrees with them.

    Take for example when someone who is vaccine hesitant comes across a story about an adverse vaccine event on their social media feed, it reinforces their existing belief. They may then go searching for more “evidence” to support their concerns and are unlikely to be reassured by healthcare workers. It is possible to change people’s behaviours. But, great catalysts don’t push harder or add more energy. They figure out what the barriers are and reduce them.

    In the vaccine example, one approach might be to focus more attention on briefing media on the benefits of vaccines so that people are better able to objectively balance and assess any potential risks.

    More generally, what I would say to your question is that regardless of what we’re doing about it, a growing number of us say we want to live better, healthier, lives. And that is still significant.

    Question 7
    OK then what are the barriers, did we explore what is stopping health consumers from taking better care of their health, despite wanting to do more?

    Dean: The most common reason for around 3 in 10 health consumers overall was simply a lack of motivation – though this was somewhat higher among younger people.

    With cost of living still a key issue for most people, not having the money was also a key barrier (people, but much higher in rural areas and lower income earners. A similar number of people said they were simply too tired.

    Around 1 in 5 said they were able to start taking better care of their health but struggled to keep going.

    While change takes time, the opportunities are immense.

    Among the 1 in 2 Australians who require ongoing treatment or medication for a medical condition, almost 9 in 10 said their condition was chronic with mental & behavioural conditions the most common impacting 1 in 4 people.

    Question 8
    On the issue of mental health what does the report show?

    Dean: Almost 1 in 5 Australians said they had been diagnosed mental health illness or disorder in the past 12 months alone and 1 in 3 at some point in their life.

    Among young people aged 18-24, almost 4 in 10 told us they had a diagnosed mental health condition in the in the past 12 months. This of course is placing a huge strain on the care system.

    Over 1 in 3 (36%) Australians believe they needed professional mental health support over the past 12 months. Encouragingly this was down from 43% in 2022, but the overall number masks some very different patterns across the regions.

    In rural areas, the number climbed to 46% in 2023 (34% in 2022) compared to 31% in capital cities where it dropped quite significantly. And worryingly, among the 18-24 group an unchanged 7 in 10 felt they needed professional help.

    Concluding question
    So how would you sum all this up Dean?

    Dean: I think it is very clear that consumers are increasingly taking their health into their own hands with a growing commitment to self-care.

    But more needs to be done to turn good health intentions into actions with a particular focus on those on lower incomes and people living in rural areas.

    A lack of motivation, money and tiredness are viewed by health consumers as the key factors in stopping them from taking better care of themselves.

    Future preventative health policies may benefit from focussing on these three key barriers.

    Thank you for your time and the insights you have provided

    Dean: Thank you

*As always, all in this PODMD podcast is intended for health professionals and the comments are of a general nature. Information given is not intended as specific medical advice pertaining to any given patient. If you have a clinical issue with one of your patients please seek appropriate advice from a colleague with expertise in the area.