Health Agenda

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Prevention is best: Why you should add extras use to your list of new year’s resolutions

One of the best new year’s resolutions you can make is a commitment to your wellbeing.

The start of a new year is a time that many people create resolutions to take with them into the year ahead. And what better resolution is there than to create or resume healthy habits that can support your health and wellbeing? Particularly since the extras benefits you can claim renew in January each year, giving you a clean slate to book in those appointments you might have missed out in the previous 12 months.

While some of us would only go to the dentist for a specific dental problem, or check in with our GP when something felt “wrong”, we should take time to have regular check-ups, from head to toe, that might help prevent certain health issues from occurring.

The reality is that some serious health conditions can be prevented if caught early and addressed with the right medical help. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) reported that in 2017-18 alone, 72,000 serious dental problems that required hospitalisation could’ve been prevented with early intervention.

From podiatry to physio, there are range of health providers that can be included in your list of private health insurance extras, depending on your cover. These providers are there to support your physical and mental health and to ensure your future wellbeing.

“Extras cover can really nudge people to get seen early,” says Julie Macey, Head of Ancillary Benefits for HCF. “No one wants to go to the hospital to get value from their health insurance, but we all want to know that we can keep our teeth healthy, access a physiotherapist, get glasses or contacts if we need them, or have a remedial massage when we’re all tensed up and wonky.”

With extras cover refreshing on 1 January each year, it’s a good time to nip health issues in the bud.

Check-ups for children

An important area of ongoing good health is dental health. And the sooner we can get our children into the regular habit of dental check-ups, the better chance we have at healthy smiles.

As well as the ongoing importance of teaching kids good gum and teeth routines, catching tooth decay as early as possible can help prevent painful and costly treatments in the future.

“Good oral health has ‘whole of body’ outcomes, from childhood to older years,” says Julie. “And there’s evidence that bad oral health can impact your heart health and pregnancy, for example.”

Experts recommend taking children to the dentist from about 3 years old to get them comfortable with the environment. Talk to your dentist about what they offer for children on your extras cover.

Health interventions for adults

Sydney-based GP Dr Anjali Didi, who specialises in women’s health, geriatrics, nutrition and gut health, says around 75% of the cases she sees daily could be prevented.

“Obesity is the biggest factor,” says Dr Didi, who admits the pandemic has heightened her concerns. “We’ve had a metabolic change due to the lack of incidental exercise we’re doing, so we're seeing people's cholesterol markers a little bit higher. Just a 5% increase in your weight can change blood pressure and cholesterol readings.”

Research tells us that obesity is linked to many serious and chronic health conditions. In fact, AIHW reports that 7% of the overall health burden in Australia is caused by overweight and obesity issues.

“Leaving obesity as it is increases our risk of stroke, heart disease, and arthritis in the hips, feet and knees,” says Dr Didi.

The best way to prevent obesity is to maintain a healthy weight through diet and exercise, but if you need extra help and guidance, you’re not alone.

“Obesity is a chronic condition, not a lifestyle event,” says Dr Didi, who can provide patients with care plans and referrals to a number of allied health professionals. “These include exercise physiologists for certain conditions. If we need to, we can actively manage obesity with lifestyle and medications.”

How to support our bones and posture

Another common lifestyle change over the last 2 years that may be affecting our short- and long-term health is working from home.

“Visiting a healthcare professional like a physiotherapist may help prevent repetitive strain injury or musculoskeletal conditions which are being caused by the ergonomic set-up many of us have at home,” says Dr Didi.

Musculoskeletal conditions, including back pain and other conditions that cause pain, discomfort or reduced mobility in the joints, bones, and muscles, are the leading cause for rehabilitation in two-thirds of all adults accessing rehab, and the leading cause for children.

You can help prevent musculoskeletal conditions by:

  • making sure your desk and chair set-up is correct for your height
  • taking regular breaks from sitting
  • stretching
  • doing regular, low-impact exercise like walking or swimming
  • visiting health professionals like physiotherapists and massage therapists, who can provide back and muscle support.

Good health for older Australians

As we age, we’re more susceptible to certain diseases and injuries, many of which can be prevented if we plan ahead.

Stephen, 65, from Brisbane says he didn’t realise he had a hearing issue until his wife and children pointed it out.

“I honestly hadn’t noticed. I always put it down to the TV being too loud, or the grandchildren chatting away. I was reluctant to have a test, but my wife insisted. I was shocked when my hearing specialist said I needed hearing aids.”

While most types of hearing loss are permanent, intervention can help improve quality of life almost immediately.

Regular eye checks can also help detect many serious conditions, including heart disease, diabetes, and even certain cancers.

Preventive health for feet

Another part of the body that benefits from regular check-ups is one of the hardest working, but often ignored – our feet.

Diabetes puts people at risk of losing feeling in their feet, which means they can injure their feet without realising.

“Lower limb issues like hip pain and knee pain might be due to the distribution of weight on your feet,” explains Dr Didi, who advises you see a podiatrist every 12 months if you’re concerned.

When should I look for help for my mental health?

Early intervention with matters of mental health, particularly in young people, can help create more positive outcomes, meaning you don’t have to have a diagnosed mental health disorder before you ask for help.

“When I talk about mental health most people think about Netflix series they’ve watched that address very severe disorders,” says Dr Didi. “But the 2 core symptoms of depression would be a loss in interest of doing things that you normally enjoy, and a feeling of persistent sadness or fatigue.”

If you’re concerned about your mental health, Dr Didi recommends talking to your GP. PSYCH2U mental wellbeing and navigation services also give eligible HCF members* access to video consultations with psychologists, psychiatrists and other health professionals.

If you’re struggling with depression or anxiety, and need to speak to someone now, call Lifeline on 13 11 14.

Why prevention is always best

No matter how old you are, looking after your body and overall health is always a smart choice, and extras cover gives people the perfect reason to make the time, says Julie.

“I think some people forget they have extras cover, or worry about being out of pocket. HCF’s 100% back programs# remove the cost consideration for that initial visit to the physio or for a dental check with our No-Gap provider network.”

Checking in with the right professionals can not only safeguard your health, but also your wallet. Considering the potential benefits of proactive health planning, it might be worth putting use of your extras cover near the top of your resolutions list in 2022.

Kerry McCarthy
First published January 2022

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*Eligible members with HCF Hospital Gold cover for at least 12 months can access a comprehensive mental health support program that provides customised care through online, telehealth and chronic disease management programs.

#Depends on your level of cover, annual limits and waiting periods.