Laticia Gibson, Reporter: Australia is recognised as having one of the best health care systems in the world. But, with our extensive health prevention and promotion strategies, come challenges. Access to care, cost and our ageing population means whilst we’re living longer, we’re also living longer with disease and disability.
Professor Kathy Eagar, Director of AHSRI: I think the major challenges are technology and ageing and the technology challenge is we can now do more and people expect more. I think the challenge for the health system and for us as health researchers is to demonstrate that health is an investment rather than a cost.
Laticia Gibson, Reporter: With such high demands and system pressures, the AHSRI team here at the University of Wollongong is focused on achieving health service systems research and providing real world solutions.
Professor Kathy Eagar, Director of AHSRI: The Illawarra is a perfect microcosm of Australia. We are a very self-contained population, most people receive all of their health care here. We have nine public hospitals and a network of private hospitals and we’re very self-contained, and that means we can undertake research here in the Illawarra and we can generalise the results to the whole of Australia.
Margot Mains, CE at Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District: We have a number of partnerships with the University of Wollongong, and one of those partnerships is with AHSRI, the Australian Health Services Research Institute. This is a partnership where together we have created CHRISP, which is very much about health research for the Illawarra Shoalhaven population. So we’re dealing with a lot more complexity in the system. What this enables us to do is to couple what’s happening in our population to what we need to look at as a health system to actually more effectively support those people or help them improve their health status and how they are.
Laticia Gibson, Reporter: One area in particular they’ve honed in on is high attenders; that is, people who attend the emergency department regularly.
James Brinton, Service Lead Emergency, and Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District: So what we’ve seen in health and in the emergency department is an exponential increase in the number of patients who are presenting. Even in the last quarter, we saw an increase of almost nine per cent in the number of patients, and that’s been year-on-year. It’s not patient-centred, having to come back to an emergency department seven or eight times in a twelve month period, and so by working both on the hospital side, which is a limiting resource, and working on the patient side, which is whatever’s best for the patient, we can come up with some really good outcomes.
Laticia Gibson, Reporter: Through longitudinal studies analysing millions of records and working closely with frontline service providers, AHSRI has been able to influence change at ground level.
Associate Professor Rob Gordon, Deputy Director of AHSRI: We have a real commitment to a philosophy of collaborating closely with all of our stakeholders, right from senior executives in provider organisations through government, right down to staff on the floor, working in aged care homes or in hospitals for example. Our approach to collaborating with stakeholders across the sector, we think is really important to developing a good understanding of the issues and allows us to identify appropriate solutions in the research that we’re undertaking.
Laticia Gibson, Reporter: AHSRI has been extensively involved in aged health care reform processes over the past several years, collaboration again a key factor in their success. Having worked with a range of aged care providers over many years, AHSRI research has resulted in positive changes to facilities both in the Illawarra and around Australia.
Dr Lyn Phillipson, Dementia Fellow at the National Health and Medical Research Council: We’ve been trying to develop a way of thinking about care-related quality of life, so we’ve been really trying to focus on research methods that help us to understand different areas of life that might be important for people with dementia, and how we can measure and assess those.
Laticia Gibson, Reporter: One particular area being addressed is communication issues hindering patients from making decisions around their own care.
Dr Lyn Phillipson, Dementia Fellow at the National Health and Medical Research Council: We’ve been focused on using new types of communication and measurement methods, things like talking mats or easy-read questionnaires and surveys that allow people with dementia to communicate both with pictures, gestures and words around things that are important to them.
Laticia Gibson, Reporter: It’s through results and changes like these that AHSRI and the University see the most benefit of the work they do.
Professor Kathy Eagar, Director of AHSRI: The legacy for AHSRI is more than just traditional academic metrics. Every academic wants to be published in high quality, peer-reviewed journals and we want to do that too, but the legacy for AHSRI is that we want to improve the health system and we want to improve care for patients.