Purpose: The aim of this report was to describe the number of Australians affected by pterygium in recent years, treatment options, number of treatment encounters and costs of treatment.
Method: A review of published literature was conducted to identify the prevalence of pterygium in Australian populations. Costs of primary care were based on national general practitioner (GP) survey data. Costs of surgical intervention were based on Health Insurance Commission claims data and Australian Institute of Health and Welfare National Hospital Morbidity Data.
Results: Pterygium occurs in 1.1% of Australians. It is more prevalent in populations with higher exposure to ultraviolet radiation, and older men (occurring in 12% of males over 60 years). The estimated annual number of GP contacts was 58,900. Forty per cent of primary care contacts for pterygium were referred to an ophthalmologist and topical medication was prescribed by GPs in 32% of contacts. The estimated annual cost of GP visits, specialist visits and topical medication was AUD$3.2 m. There were 6997 claims for pterygium removal in 1999/2000 with 3192 conjunctival autografts. Rates of pterygium removal were highest in Queensland with 56 per 100,000 population. The annual costs of surgical intervention were estimated at AUD$4.8 m.
Conclusions: The direct medical costs of pterygium in Australia are AUD$8.3 m annually. This is likely to be an underestimate of total cost because indirect costs such as loss of work time could not be measured. More data are needed on the long-term benefits of pterygium intervention.