Collage of photos of the Wiser Healthcare UOW team including Prof Stacy Carter, Dr Chris Degeling, Dr Patti Shih

Funding win for UOW researchers studying the problem of overuse of healthcare

Funding win for UOW researchers studying the problem of overuse of healthcare

Centre of Research Excellence to ensure better value care for all Australians

A team of University of Wollongong (UOW) researchers has been awarded a share of $2.5 million funding over five years through the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Centres of Research Excellence (CRE) scheme to conduct world-leading research to reduce medical overdiagnosis and overtreatment in Australia, and around the world.

Wiser Healthcare is a multidisciplinary research collaboration involving The University of Sydney, Bond University, Monash University and University of Wollongong.

Professor Stacy Carter, Director of the Australian Centre for Health Engagement, Evidence and Values (ACHEEV), a research centre in the School of Health and Society, will lead the UOW team, including Dr Chris Degeling and Dr Patti Shih.

“We hear a lot about the important problem of underuse – when people miss out on healthcare they need. But overuse is just as important, and a neglected problem. Overuse can happen when we are tested unnecessarily, get diagnoses that don’t help us, or receive treatments that make things worse instead of better,” Professor Carter said.

Wiser Healthcare researchers have estimated that up to 30 per cent of healthcare resources in Australia are spent on interventions that either make no difference, or actively harm people.

Dr Patti Shih, who joined UOW as a postdoctoral researcher in 2019 to work on Wiser Healthcare projects, will co-lead a project with colleagues at the University of Sydney aiming to co-design approaches to reduce overuse with clinicians and consumers.

“Dr Shih will also continue her world-leading work on the relatively new practice of promoting medical tests direct to consumers, finding out what people think of this, whether they are using the tests, and how they think self-tests should be regulated,” Professor Carter said.

“Projects of ours, such as our current research on the ethical, social and legal implications of using artificial intelligence for screening, will also benefit from connections to the Wiser Healthcare network.”

The CRE will support 12 projects across the four universities, in areas as diverse as changing how pathologists write their reports, testing different ways to communicate breast screening results to women, nudging clinicians to avoid unnecessary tests and treatments for low back pain, and optimising cardiovascular disease risk assessment.

“Each of these 12 projects will move Australia and the world a little closer to ensuring that healthcare is provided to those who really need it, instead of those who don’t,” Professor Carter said.

UOW Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Innovation) Professor Jennifer Martin AC welcomed the funding announcement and congratulated the successful UOW researchers.

“My congratulations go to the UOW research team led by Professor Stacy Carter. With this new Centre of Research Excellence the team can now achieve important health and medical research goals,” said Professor Martin.

“As we continue to feel the ongoing impact of the current pandemic, it is important to reflect on the critical positive effect of timely and high quality multidisciplinary research such as this. I look forward to following the progress of the Wiser Healthcare NHMRC Centre of Research Excellence,” Professor Martin said.

The competitive CRE scheme, administered by NHMRC, on behalf of the Australian Government Department of Health, supports collaborative research projects to generate new knowledge that leads to improved health outcomes. The scheme provides support for teams of researchers to pursue collaborations in clinical, population health and health services research. The research aims to improve translation of research outcomes into policy and practice.

Main picture: Collage of the UOW Wiser Healthcare team, Professor Stacy Carter, Dr Chris Degeling and Dr Patti Shih