Background: This paper aims to describe funding models used and compare the effects of funding models for remuneration on clinical activity and cost-effectiveness in outreach eye services in Australia.
Design: Cross-sectional case study based in remote outreach ophthalmology services in Australia.
Participants: Key stake-holders from eye services in nine outreach regions participated in the study.
Methods: Semistructured interviews were conducted to perform a qualitative assessment of outreach eye services' funding mechanisms. Records of clinical activity were used to statistically compare funding models.
Main Outcome Measures: Workforce availability (supply of ophthalmologists), costs of services, clinical activity (surgery and clinic consultation rates) and waiting times.
Results: The supply of ophthalmologists (full-time equivalence) to all remote regions was below the national average (up to 19 times lower). Cataract surgery rates were also below national averages (up to 10 times lower). Fee-for-service funding significantly increased clinical activity. There were also trends to shorter waiting times and lower costs per attendance.
Conclusions: For outreach ophthalmology services, the funding model used for clinician reimbursement may influence the efficiency and costs of the services. Fee-for-service funding models, safety-net funding options or differential funding/incentives need further exploration to ensure isolated disadvantaged areas prone to poor patient attendance are not neglected. In order for outreach eye health services to be sustainable, remuneration rates need to be comparable to those for urban practice.