Building research capacity in Indigenous health has been recognised as integral in efforts to reduce the significant health disparities between Indigenous and other Australian populations. The past few decades have seen substantial changes in funding policy for Australian Indigenous health research, including increases in overall expenditure and a greater focus on collaborative and priority-driven research. However, whether these policy shifts have resulted in any change to the structure of the research workforce in this field is unclear. We examine research publications in Australian Indigenous health from 1995–2008 to explore trends in publication output, key themes investigated, and research collaborations.
A comprehensive literature search was undertaken to identify research publications about Australian Indigenous health from 1995–2008. Abstracts of all publications identified were reviewed by two investigators for relevance. Eligible publications were classified according to key themes. Social network analyses of co-authorship patterns were used to examine collaboration in the periods 1995–1999, 2000–2004 and 2005–2008.
Nine hundred and fifty three publications were identified. Over time, the number of publications per year increased, particularly after 2005, and there was a substantial increase in assessment of health service-related issues. Network analyses revealed a highly collaborative core group of authors responsible for the majority of outputs, in addition to a series of smaller separate groups. In the first two periods there was a small increase in the overall network size (from n = 583 to n = 642 authors) due to growth in collaborations around the core. In the last period, the network size increased considerably (n = 1,083), largely due to an increase in the number and size of separate groups. The general size of collaborations also increased in this period.
In the past few decades there has been substantial development of the research workforce in Indigenous health, characterised by an increase in authors and outputs, a greater focus on some identified priority areas and sustained growth in collaborations. This has occurred in conjunction with significant changes to funding policy for Indigenous health research, suggesting that both productivity and collaboration may be sensitive to reform, including the provision of dedicated funding.