Public health

‘Shane Warne effect’ drives unprecedented rise in heart health checks

GPs are reporting surge in the number of Australian men seeking CVD health assessments, prompted by the sudden death of Shane Warne from a suspected MI.

The cricketing great’s death in early March led to weeks of media coverage, much of which emphasised his cause of death, as well as a state memorial service at the end of the month.

But Federal Government statistics show it also may have served as a wake-up call, inspiring many patients – particularly middle-aged men – to book a check-up.

“Shane’s age has triggered a lot of concern as it has made people acutely aware of their mortality at a young age,” Adelaide GP Dr Bridget Sawyer noted in an article for the AMA (SA) magazine this month.

“I have had one person speak to me about his own cardiac health after Shane Warne’s death – it prompted him to attend for review.”
Services Australia figures show it’s been widespread.

Medicare claims for GP heart health assessments rose more than a third in the three months following the Spin King’s death, with the second quarter of 2022 recording the highest number of claims ever for the item.

Open to patients 30 and over, the item was introduced in April 2019 following a campaign by the National Heart Foundation of Australia and News Corp, with a projected cost of $170 million over five years.

But it suffered from lower-than-expected uptake amid claims its $76.95 rebate offered no incentive beyond that for a regular 20-minute GP consultation.

Heart Foundation chief medical advisor Professor Garry Jennings said there were now strong signs that GPs and the public were embracing the option.

“At this rate, we could well reach our target of 450,000 Medicare-subsidised heart health checks by the middle of 2023,” he told reporters earlier this year.

Professor Jennings added that traffic to the foundation’s website from people searching for MI-related information doubled on the day of Warne’s death.

“This just reiterates the need for government to ensure that heart health checks will be permanently subsidised by Medicare beyond its June 2023 expiry date, especially after several years of people putting off their health due to the pandemic.”

Dr Sawyer, chair of the AMA(SA) committee of general practice, said there hopes the episode would lead to lasting behaviour change.

“There’s often an uptick in presentations after any unexpected celebrity death or illness – for example, Kyle and breast cancer, Delta Goodrem and lymphoma,” she said.

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