Services provided by palliative medicine specialists

This section provides information on the number and types of Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) subsidies for palliative care-related services provided by palliative medicine specialists, along with the characteristics of patients who received these services.

The Australian and New Zealand Society of Palliative Medicine describes palliative medicine specialists as the ‘general physicians of end of life care, able to coordinate a wide array of palliative treatment options (including chemotherapy, radiotherapy, surgical options, pharmacological options) and psychosocial care, based on a knowledge of the disease, burden versus benefits of palliative therapeutics and the wishes of patient and family’ (ANZSPM 2009:162 ). A palliative medicine specialist is a medical specialist who is a Fellow of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians and has completed the College’s training program in palliative medicine, a Fellow of the Australasian Chapter of Palliative Medicine, or both (ANZSPM 2008).

Data downloads

Services provided by palliative medicine specialists tables 2016-17 (131KB XLS)

 Services provided by palliative medicine specialists section 2016-17 (351KB)

The information in this section was last updated in May 2018.

Key points

  • 14,930 patients received an MBS-subsidised palliative care medicine specialist service in 2016–17
  • 80,000  MBS-subsidised services were provided by palliative medicine specialists.
  • $6.1 million was paid in benefits for MBS-subsidised palliative medicine specialist services in 2016–17, at an average of $410 per patient. Between 2012–13 and 2016–17, MBS benefits paid for all palliative medicine specialist services increased by 30.5%.
  • 677.5 subsidised palliative medicine specialist services per 100,000 population were recorded in Western Australia, more than double the national average rate of 329.1.


Patients who are referred to palliative medicine specialists usually have high-level and complex needs (physical, social, psychological, emotional), including:

  • an exacerbation of a previously stable symptom, and/or
  • identified needs (physical, social, emotional or spiritual) that exceed the capacity (knowledge, resources, facilities) of the primary care providers (PCA 2005 ).

It should be noted that a patient may access more than 1 type of MBS-subsidised palliative medicine specialist service during the reporting period presented and that each service presented in this section is counted separately.

These data relate only to those palliative care services that are provided by a palliative medicine specialist and are being claimed under the MBS. In other words, the reported number of patients who receive palliative medicine services are likely to be an underestimate of total palliative care activity. This is due to the fact that other medical specialists (such as geriatricians and oncologists) may also attend to terminally ill patients and provide palliative care, without the service being eligible to be claimed as a palliative care-related service under MBS (Parker et al. 2008).

The information presented in this chapter relates to MBS-subsidised palliative medicine specialist services in the financial year 2016–17. To provide information on changes over time, data are also presented for the reporting periods 2012–13 to 2016–17. More detailed information on the scope and coverage of the data presented in this chapter is provided in data sources.