Supporting all Australians to be healthy through affordable, person-centred primary healthcare

A new Primary Health Research Plan will shape $50 million in funding from the Medical Research Future Fund. An independent Expert Advisory Panel formed the plan. Members tell us how it will support all Australians to be healthy by transforming primary healthcare.

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Better access to primary healthcare

Primary healthcare is our first point of contact with the healthcare system. It includes general practitioners and other healthcare service providers. ‘Primary healthcare is the foundation of a strong, efficient and effective healthcare system,’ says primary health expert Professor Jane Gunn. Jane chaired the MRFF’s Primary Health Research Plan Expert Advisory Panel. ‘When it is working well, primary healthcare keeps people healthy and out of hospital,’ she tells us.

‘So there is a strong argument for everyone to get their primary healthcare needs met. This should happen no matter where you live, how much you earn, what cultural background you come from or what gender you are.’

But access to primary healthcare has been getting more difficult for many people. This includes people living in rural and remote communities, First Nations Australians, people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, people with disability and people on low incomes.

As panel member Professor Jenny May, a rural GP, puts it, ‘we are starting from a position of being behind where we want to be.’

New models of care

Panel members designed the Primary Health Research Plan to change this. ‘We want our most creative minds to think about how we put equity at the centre of primary healthcare in this country,’ Jane says.

‘What are new models of care that might work? We're not expecting there is a single answer. There will be different approaches that could happen in rural or regional areas, compared with metropolitan areas.

‘But we are expecting people will work together, across the visible and invisible boundaries that exist, and learn from each other.’

Person-centred care

‘Everyone’s normal is different,’ Jane says. ‘Everybody has a unique set of circumstances. In the ideal world, they would get person-centred care tailored to their circumstances.’

Different groups of people also need tailored healthcare. ‘Culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) people often miss out on general health information,’ says panel member Angela Ljubic from the Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Councils of Australia. ‘45% of migrants don’t access adequate healthcare. Often, they don’t see health professionals until it’s too late.

‘We want researchers to work with CALD people to find out what model of care works best for each community. For example, some new and emerging communities want verbal health information from community leaders they trust.’

To achieve person-centred care, the research plan also allocates funding to researchers in rural, regional and remote areas and Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services. ‘Uptake of best practice research is much more likely when research is conceived and supported in the area it is for,’ Jenny explains.

Team-based multidisciplinary care

The best person-centred primary care happens when different health professionals work in teams. ‘Team-based multidisciplinary care gives better outcomes for people with chronic disease or complex care needs,’ Jenny explains. ‘It also helps people avoid disease or manage and treat it early. It reduces hospital admissions and improves quality of life.’

‘The research plan calls for researchers to work out what a sustainable multidisciplinary primary care team looks like,’ Jane notes. ‘How much care is doctor delivered? What are the roles of nurses, allied health, pharmacy, dental?

‘In rural areas there are not enough healthcare professionals to give local access to multidisciplinary care,’ Jenny says. ‘People cannot always access the best healthcare that they should to stay well.’

To improve this lack of access, the plan also calls for research into health services and use of data.  ‘I'm hoping this plan supports better integration of our systems,’ Jenny tells us. ‘Seamless transfer of information and patients will be of great benefit to priority populations.’

Revitalizing primary healthcare

‘The panel had diverse experience,’ Angela comments. ‘This gave us valuable information about how to plan primary health research to be innovative and future oriented.’

Jenny hopes the research plan will support primary care being delivered close to people's homes in non-metropolitan settings. ‘I see enormous wellness in that’ she adds.

‘I hope researchers will be excited by this plan,’ Jane concludes. ‘With their engagement we can realise our ambition to revitalise primary healthcare.’

Read the Primary Health Research Plan.

Learn more about the Primary Health Research Plan Expert Advisory Panel.

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