March 14, 2023

Australians turn toward preventative health

Australians are more focused on preventative health than ever, presenting opportunities for businesses and practitioners. But there is still room for improvement and financial incentives may hold the key.

Australians are taking a more proactive approach to their health since the COVID pandemic, according to the latest NAB Health Insights Special Report.

The survey of 2,000 people revealed improvements across several areas of preventative health engagement over the past year.

Three quarters of respondents said they rarely or never smoked, 70 per cent stayed connected with family or friends and 60 per cent ate healthier and were sun safe.

Nearly half reported having good-quality sleep, a healthy body weight and an active lifestyle. Over 40 per cent had regular health check-ups, while four in 10 made their health a bigger priority.

Report author Dean Pearson, NAB Head of Behavioural and Industry Economics, found the results encouraging, particularly for those aged 18-24, which was the best cohort for prioritising health.

“We’ve seen a greater appreciation for life, particularly amongst young people,” Pearson says. “You might expect that, as we age, engagement around health care increases, but it’s interesting to see it with people aged 18 to 24. This may mean long-term changes in behaviour that have lasting benefits and reduce costs for the healthcare system.”

Technology driving change

The survey found around 25 per cent of Australians were using wearable devices to monitor heart rate, sleeping patterns, blood pressure, steps per day and other metrics.

Those aged 18-24 again led the way in this category, with 40 per cent using wearables.

“Wearable tech can incentivise behaviours that could reduce hospital visits and improve personal health,” Pearson says. “A growing number of Australians wear smartwatches and we’ve seen a lot of innovation in healthcare apps.

“We’re also seeing things like smart patches coming in, which are small wearables fixed onto the skin. These could target diabetes management, for example.”

Andrew Loveridge, Customer Executive, NAB Health, believes the way Australians think about health has evolved to be more than just diet and exercise, but rather a holistic wellness, encompassing mental health, sleep habits and emotional connections. He believes digitisation has enabled this.

“There is the wearability of products, the access to support services, the focus on headspace,” he says. “There are apps that help you relax or meditate… technology is giving you in-the-moment feedback about your daily habits – even your sleep. That all plays into wellbeing. Digital has enabled this awareness and, once people are aware, they can be far more front-footed.”

Money a major motivator

The survey also revealed room for improvement in certain areas. Fewer than one in 10 met their recommended daily vegetable intake, and more than 40 per cent had not visited a dentist within 12 months.

Nearly half nominated financial incentives as highly motivating for improving those behaviours, which Pearson found unsurprising in the current inflationary environment.

“There are a range of areas where the cost of living is having an effect. So for health, even a relatively small financial inducement might be the tipping point to encourage people to be more proactive.”

Health professionals see visibility gains

COVID gave more Australians direct access to qualified health professionals, such as epidemiologists at daily press conferences. NAB’s survey found they took comfort in these practitioners’ reliability, moving away from information distributed via online searches and social media.

“Prior to COVID, the social media aspect of healthcare was concerning,” Loveridge says. “One big benefit during COVID was people starting to gravitate towards legitimate scientific health research.

“We have since seen a greater appetite for more [qualified] advice. Hopefully that will continue and help health practitioners engage with people at a deeper level.”

This could mean new opportunities for businesses in spaces such as diagnostics, according to Loveridge.

“The technology behind COVID testing has probably been around for over a decade, but the pandemic saw increased awareness of its relative cost-effectiveness and simplicity,” he says, adding that Australians have become more comfortable checking their health status at home.

“This provides an opportunity to usher in a new era in healthcare. Of course, people need to make good decisions about which tests to take and what to do with the information they’re getting.

“The health practitioner must remain at the heart; new tech helps, but expert advice is critical. There are opportunities for businesses and companies that get the balance right.”

Health businesses are experiencing more demand for services across the board, Loveridge continues. “Our customers have noticed an uptick across pharmacy, GPs, dental, allied health. There is always a pent-up demand for services.

“And providers are putting additional services and support around traditional models. So, you may go to the GP but see a nurse for your vaccination, or get your bloods done at the in-house pathology. That one-stop-shop is really resonating with patients; customer experience is driving front-of-mind thinking for medical professionals.”

It comes back to the fact that, as the report shows, Australians themselves are prioritising preventative health.

“It has been a real eye-opener for us and has reaffirmed what medical professionals have been telling us about increasing awareness and increasing activity levels post-COVID,” Loveridge says.

“When something like that happens to everyone, there is a real focus on getting it right with health.”