The importance of collaboration was a recurring theme at the recent Primary Health Care Research Conference, report Dr Christina Hagger and Amanda Carne from the Primary Health Care Research & Information Service (PHC RIS).
Some chronic challenges for primary health care
Christina Hagger and Amanda Carne write:
The 2013 PHC Research Conference was recently held in Sydney and the conference theme, Allies for Better Primary Health Care, encouraged delegates to consider the value of engaging with policymakers, researchers, consumers and practitioners to improve primary health care outcomes.
No one can do it alone – we all need to work as allies to promote quality care, quality of life and an equitable, sustainable health future.
Welcomed by the Hon Tanya Plibersek, Minister for Health and Medical Research, delegates were offered the challenge to consider how they, as allies in primary health care, could make a difference to health outcomes.
They were further asked to consider – What are we still trying to figure out? – the question famously attributed to Ernest Rutherford who headed the Nobel Prize generating Cavendish Laboratory at Cambridge University in the early 1900s.
The intent of the question is not on recounting what we already know, but determining what it is we need to know to improve; this motif was woven throughout the plenaries and workshops, as well as concurrent and poster sessions.
Delegates’ readiness for fresh perspectives and new thought are clearly evident in the evaluation comments. Observations include the following:
- new knowledge, demonstration of innovation and policy practice relevant research;
- be exposed to new ideas and get an update;
- new collaborations, spark new ideas;
- see what’s happening in primary health care research in Australia;
- to receive great research information and to network;
- finding out who the key players in primary health care in Australia are, learning about hot topics in primary health care.
Professor Martin Fortin, from the University of Sherbrooke, Canada, emphasised the importance of allies with his observations in the opening plenary that we are moving into a different space, ‘switching gears’ as we move from an acute into a chronic era, and one where major challenges, such as multi-morbidity and obesity, are insidiously becoming the norm.
He highlighted the need for primary health care at all levels – policy, research, practice and consumer – to work together to ensure coordinated, efficient, effective care delivery and better health outcomes.
The multi-morbidity theme was threaded throughout the conference. In addition to a workshop and two concurrent paper sessions, the RACGP held a satellite breakfast that focused on the issues and challenges for our health system in addressing and managing this unswerving challenge.
Personal contact matters
The second keynote speaker, Professor Emily Banks from the ANU, quoted Goethe to remind us that putting one’s thoughts into action is the most difficult thing to do in the world.
She detailed a number of strategies to improve the likelihood and effectiveness of translating research into policy. These strategies include the importance of engaging with policy makers and practitioners throughout the research process.
The crucial importance of personal interaction in the policy/research interface was evident throughout the conference – as was printed on the conference bags. It is face-to-face interactions that are the most likely to encourage policy and practice use of research (Nutley, Walter & Davies, 2007).
Delegates were invited to see the policy/research interface first hand with a conversational policy briefing between the Hon Jillian Skinner, Minister of Health, NSW talking with renowned national and international researchers.
Similarly, Mark Booth, First Assistant Secretary of the Primary and Ambulatory Care Division of the Department of Health and Ageing, gave a lunchtime session followed by Q&A on the challenges of primary health care.
The third keynote, Dr William Dietz, formerly from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the USA, outlined the real challenges of obesity, its prevalence, and the need for innovative methods of care delivery to achieve sustained weight loss among obese patients.
The conference concluded with a stimulating hypothetical facilitated by Professor Ngaire Kerse from the University of Auckland that clearly demonstrated the importance of drawing together policy, research, practice and consumer perspectives as allies to make a difference.
• Presentations from the 2013 PHC Research Conference, where permission has been granted, are now available online. This includes 40 poster PDFs and 122 webcasts. http://www.phcris.org.au/conference/2013/
• The 2014 PHC Research Conference will be held in Canberra from 23-25 July. Subscribe to the Conference Communiqué to be kept up-to-date with details as they develop.