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Bone Scan Funding could save $millions

Bone Scan Funding Inequitable Disease diagnosis could save $millions

If you are 50-plus and live outside the Auckland, Counties Manukau, Waitemata and Canterbury District Health Board areas, your first sign of osteoporosis is likely to be a broken bone.

And even if you are lucky enough to have a GP who recognises the symptoms of osteoporosis, it’s probably going to cost you in the region of $150 to find out if you actually do have the disease.

A new report from Osteoporosis New Zealand reveals an alarming discrepancy in New Zealanders’ access to free bone scans. The report shows that only four DHB areas have contracts in place for publicly-funded bone scanning, a necessary and vital tool in diagnosing the chronic bone disease.

Osteoporosis NZ says access to bone scans and funding is haphazard and not regionally equitable. Osteoporosis is predominantly an older person’s disease and as such it does not appear to be a high priority for Ministry of Health funding Osteoporosis NZ says.

The impact of osteoporosis is far greater than many other high profile conditions, including breast and prostate cancers but many osteoporotic fractures are preventable.

Currently around 7,000 bone scans a year are contracted by DHBs. And yet there are estimated to be 11 times that many osteoporotic fractures every year.

“Essentially it is the disease we don’t have to have,” says executive director Julia Gallagher.

“Like major epidemics of the past, targeted health interventions now could drastically curb the incidence of osteoporosis, fractures and death.

“The inability to effectively diagnose osteoporosis is costing the country billions of dollars and causing pain and suffering to thousands. And the sad fact is it is only after diagnosis that you can be prescribed medication.”

Some facts about osteoporosis: More than 800 people die each year following a hip fracture. Estimated health costs - $1.15 billion every year. There are 231 osteoporotic fractures every day. 312 hospital beds throughout New Zealand contain people recovering from osteoporotic fractures. The direct cost for treating fractures is $325,000 per day. Overall expenditure associated with osteoporosis and osteoporotic fractures is more than $3 million a day Osteoporosis cost New Zealanders 12,000 years of life in 2006-07 with more than half of these years lost due to premature death.

Osteoporosis New Zealand is calling for more equitable regional funding of bone density scans.

“If you live say in Wellington, Dunedin, Wanganui or Whangarei the first time you find out you have osteoporosis is likely to be when you break a bone from a minor slip, trip or fall,” Ms Gallagher says.

“And if your GP thinks you might have osteoporosis and need a bone density scan, it’ll cost you around $150 – and that’s a lot of money to people on a pension. If all scans were publicly-funded, it would cost the country less than $12 million a year – a pittance in relation to the human and monetary cost of the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff mentality that currently pervades.”

Only three of the country’s DHBs have in-house bone scanners while Waitemata’s public-funded scans are handled by a private supplier under contract.

DHB community radiology contracts implemented in 1994 do not reflect the aging New Zealand population, Ms Gallagher says.

“With the human and monetary cost of a largely preventable disease such as osteoporosis, New Zealanders should be demanding a government review. Why should Kiwis have to pay for a diagnosis before they can get treatment?”


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