Equity of a government subsidised exercise referral scheme: A population study

Melinda Craike, Glen Wiesner, Joanne Enticott, Jason A. Bennie, Stuart J.H. Biddle

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2 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Health inequities could increase if utilisation of physical activity interventions is lower among socioeconomically disadvantaged groups. We examined associations between area level socioeconomic disadvantage and utilisation of Australian government-subsidised, general practitioner (GP)-referred, accredited exercise physiologist (AEPs) services. Methods: We conducted a cross-sectional analysis of Australian Medical Benefits Scheme (MBS) data (N = 228,771 AEP services) for the 2015–2016 financial year and aggregated publicly available data from several sources. Spearman's correlations examined associations between utilisation of AEP services and area-level socioeconomic disadvantage, indicated by Index of Relative Socioeconomic Disadvantage (IRSD) decile scores. Lower IRSD scores indicate greater levels of socioeconomic disadvantage. Results: Significant correlations between IRSD score and study variables were as follows: Out-of-pocket expenses/service (rs = 0.52); number of patients/AEP provider (rs = −0.42); number of patients/1000 population (rs = −0.24); AEP services/1000 population (rs = −0.18); average services/patient (rs = 0.24); and AEP provider/1000 population (rs = 0.14). Conclusion: Patients living in areas of greater disadvantage utilised government-subsidised, GP-referred AEP services at a higher rate and paid lower out-of-pocket fees than those living in more affluent areas. Thus, AEP services are equitably distributed, from a utilisation perspective, and acceptable to patients living in areas of disadvantage. However, the higher caseloads and lower fees that characterise AEP services in areas of greater disadvantage may result in shorter consultation times. Further research on exercise referral schemes is warranted, particularly whether socioeconomic disadvantage is associated with adherence to exercise sessions and health outcomes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)20-25
Number of pages6
JournalSocial Science and Medicine
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2018


  • Access
  • Exercise physiologist
  • General practitioner
  • Health care
  • Physical activity
  • Referral
  • Socioeconomic disadvantage

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