Wollongong has a high number of "high-risk" patients and people with chronic health conditions, despite having much better access to private health service providers than other regional areas, according to a new report.
Research by not-for-profit health insurance provider Westfund analysed claims data from members across eight regions in NSW and Queensland, in an effort to understand the needs of each different area.
It found Wollongong has among the highest prevalence of skin cancer, with only Mackay and Lithgow ranking higher, and the third highest ratio of high-risk members, behind Mackay and Townsville.
About a third of the Wollongong Westfund members who are judged to be high or medium risk had a chronic health condition, the report said, with more than a third having diabetes.
The analysis also found there were 212 ancillary service providers - such as dentists, optometrists, physiotherapists, podiatrists, and psychologists - per 1000 people in Wollongong, which is much higher than all other NSW regional centres analysed in the report.
Westfund's chief health care services officer Liz Casmiri said hopes the report - released on Thursday, November 2 - will guide health care providers to better understand the gaps in healthcare access.
Ms Casmiri high-risk members were those most at risk of adverse health events, including those who may be sick or infirm or have underlying health conditions.
She said having a high number of high-risk members had implications for Wollongong's health system.
"They'll generally use more services or when they go into hospital they have more complex conditions or have a series of conditions, which means they may stay in hospital longer which can cost health system more," she said.
"They would also use more services in the community and if they don't get access to those services, high risk members go back into hospital or have to turn up to emergency if their condition worsens."
She said the data in the report was a jumping off point, and would help Westfund to tailor its services in Wollongong.
"We want to take a deep dive - so we can see there is a higher number of service providers [in Wollongong] but are there long wait times, and are people accessing them at the right time?" she said.
"Is education needed about early intervention strategies in this region, and are they the right providers?"
"The number of providers is not the only story - it's about lifestyle, it's socio-economic, it's people's willingness to go and get preventative checks and people's willingness to engage with those providers."
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