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1.  Exploring existing and deliberated community perspectives of newborn screening: informing the development of state and national policy standards in newborn screening and the use of dried blood spots 
Objective
Since the 1960s newborn screening (NBS) for several rare and serious disorders has been in place across Australia. Testing of a simple blood spot now enables the early detection of over 30 conditions. Policies across Australian states have diverged in some aspects of NBS, especially in the retention and further use of dried blood spots collected as part of the screening and attempts are underway to bring some further national consistency. Whilst this has initiated debate amongst health professionals and policy makers there is limited empirical evidence of wider community attitudes to such issues.
Methods
This research has explored the range and depth of views held by the wider community in New South Wales through moderated small group discussions. It has also assessed the range and depth of responses where the groups are reconvened after being given further information.
Results
The findings suggest that there is limited community awareness of the public health importance of NBS and especially that resulting biological samples are stored. Members of the wider community presented with opportunities to consider current procedures and policies appear reassured and to have high levels of trust. However there are clearly some groups who have concerns with the storage of dried blood spot specimens and perceive that these may be abused.
Policy implications and conclusion
The findings will inform health professionals and policy makers as to the perceived benefits and future challenges NBS raises for the wider community. The findings have implications for improving current communications about NBS, maintaining public confidence and the development of state and national initiatives in genetic health.
doi:10.1186/1743-8462-3-14
PMCID: PMC1712344  PMID: 17164009
2.  Quality and safety of genetic testing in Australia and New Zealand: a review of the current regulatory framework 
This paper provides an overview of the regulation of quality assurance for genetic testing in Australia and New Zealand and outlines the steps currently being taken to critically appraise and improve the regulatory framework in each country. It aims to contextualize this framework within the broader context of quality and patient safety concerns; and to draw together the concerns and recommendations of the various organizations that have been working to improve quality assurance in this area.
doi:10.1186/1743-8462-3-13
PMCID: PMC1657012  PMID: 17092338
3.  The development of national injury prevention policy in the Australian health sector: and the unmet challenges of participation and implementation 
For the last 20 years injury prevention policy in Australia has been hampered by poor consultation practices, limited stakeholder involvement, inadequate allocation of resources, poor implementation, and an absence of performance measures. This paper describes the development of injury prevention policy in Australia from its beginnings in 1981 to the current day and considers what measures should be undertaken to create an effective platform for the reduction of the burden of injury in Australia.
The National Injury Prevention and Safety Promotion Plan 2004–2014, released in 2005, needs to be supported by a whole of government commitment to the reduction of injury. The Council of Australian Governments would be an ideal forum to monitor progress, supported by a cross-government Ministerial Council.
doi:10.1186/1743-8462-3-11
PMCID: PMC1635714  PMID: 17059612
4.  Cancer control policy in Australia 
Australia has an evolving national cancer control agenda. In this paper, we review the history and development of cancer control policies in Australia up to the end of 2005, and discuss the principal publications produced by both government and non-government groups which have given rise to cancer control recommendations, goals and targets. These cancer control plans have arisen in response to the impact of cancer on the Australian community and in recognition of the health gains that can be made through effective cancer control. They have been developed either in the context of a broader framework of health policy or as specific endeavours in regard to cancer. The specific recommendations and strategies proposed have focused on reducing the impact of cancer in the Australian population. Most commonly, recommendations, goals, and targets within the cancer control plans have addressed points along the continuum of care, specific cancers, and frameworks and processes. The strength of these reports is their comprehensive approach in identifying priority cancers and areas where specific developments should impact on morbidity and mortality. In the future, cancer control plans should be better supported by economic evaluations, and greater financial support for implementation and regular assessment is needed to identify progress on cancer outcomes. The more recent national and State cancer control plans include the development of frameworks to foster a coordinated and cohesive approach to the delivery of cancer care. These plans represent important reforms in cancer care in Australia, and have the potential to reduce the impact of cancer on the community and improve health outcomes.
doi:10.1186/1743-8462-3-12
PMCID: PMC1634863  PMID: 17059613
5.  Mutual obligation, shared responsibility agreements & indigenous health strategy 
Since 2004 the Howard Coalition government has implemented a new policy framework and administrative arrangements as part of its program of reform in Indigenous affairs. In this paper I will describe both the parameters of this reform program and review the processes established to support the implementation of national Indigenous health strategy. In particular, I will consider both the shift from a policy framework based on 'self-determination' to one based on 'mutual obligation', and the implementation of Shared Responsibility Agreements (SRAs) that are based on the latter principle. I will use the example of the Mulan SRA to illustrate the difficulties in articulating the 'new arrangements' with current approaches to Indigenous health planning and strategy implementation. I conclude that 'new arrangements' pose a number of problems for Indigenous health planning and strategy that need to be addressed.
doi:10.1186/1743-8462-3-10
PMCID: PMC1626072  PMID: 16999873
6.  Do adults in contact with Australia's public sector mental health services get better? 
This paper describes the outcomes of episodes of care for adults in public sector mental health services across Australia, with a view to informing the debate on service quality. Health of the Nation Outcome Scales (HoNOS) change scores and effect sizes were calculated for 14,659 acute inpatient episodes and 23,692 community episodes. The results showed that people in contact with public sector mental health services generally do get better, although the magnitude of improvement depends on the setting and episode type. This confirmatory finding is particularly positive, given current community concerns about the quality and effectiveness of mental health services.
doi:10.1186/1743-8462-3-9
PMCID: PMC1570132  PMID: 16942623
7.  A comparative evaluation of pharmacy services in single and no pharmacy towns 
Background
Recent attention has focused on access of communities to pharmacy services in rural areas. To increase access to pharmacy services in rural Western Australia some doctors have been granted a licence to dispense medication on the rationale that a pharmacy would not be economically viable in that community. However, there have been no studies conducted on whether a doctor dispensing service adequately provides a pharmacy service with respect to access and quality.
Method
Residents of seven single pharmacy towns and seven non-pharmacy rural towns were surveyed to evaluate pharmacy services delivered by a pharmacist and doctor. The towns were chosen to match closely on key demographic features, with an average population of 1,246 and 1,263 respectively. A random sample of 150 households from each town was sent the questionnaire on pharmacy services (1050 in each group). Data was also collected from the Health Insurance Commission (HIC) on dispensing locations for the residents of the two groups of towns.
Results
There was a significant difference in access to pharmacy services with 82.4% of participants from pharmacy towns accessing medications within their town compared to 51.3% of non-pharmacy town participants. The HIC data supported these trends with pharmacy town residents having relatively higher prescription rates within their town compared to non-pharmacy town residents where they were more likely to access prescriptions out of their town.
Conclusion
Pharmacy town participants were more satisfied with access to health and pharmacy services within their town. Continuation of the doctor dispensing policy requires a greater consideration of the pharmacy needs of rural residents.
doi:10.1186/1743-8462-3-8
PMCID: PMC1523350  PMID: 16800871
8.  Policy challenges from the "White" Senate inquiry into workplace-related health impacts of toxic dusts and nanoparticles 
On 22 June 2005 the Senate of the Commonwealth of Australia voted to establish an inquiry into workplace harm related to toxic dust and emerging technologies (including nanoparticles). The inquiry became known as the "White" Inquiry after Mr Richard White, a financially uncompensated sufferer of industrial sandblasting-induced lung disease who was instrumental in its establishment. The "White" Inquiry delivered its final report and recommendations on 31 May 2006. This paper examines whether these recommendations and their implementation may provide a unique opportunity not only to modernize relevant monitoring standards and processes, but related compensation systems for disease associated with workplace-related exposure to toxic dusts. It critically analyzes the likely role of the new Australian Safety and Compensation Council (ASCC) in this area. It also considers whether recommendations related to potential workplace related harm from exposure to nanoparticles could commence a major shift in Australian healthcare regulation.
doi:10.1186/1743-8462-3-7
PMCID: PMC1513237  PMID: 16780594
9.  Rational antibiotic use in China: lessons learnt through introducing surgeons to Australian guidelines 
Background
World-wide concern about increasing antibiotic resistance has focused attention on strategies to improve antibiotic use. This research adapted Australian best-practice guidelines on the prophylactic use of antibiotics in surgery to a Beijing teaching hospital and then used them as a quality assessment and improvement tool, supplemented by educational interventions. Qualitative data about factors influencing antibiotic use was also obtained.
Methods
Australian and international guideline materials were amalgamated with the help of Chinese experts. Antibiotics prescribed for surgical prophylaxis in 60 consecutive patients undergoing clean or clean-contaminated surgery (120 total) were then compared with guideline recommendations in three phases; a pre-intervention period from June to August, 2002, an intervention period from June to August 2003 and post-intervention period from September to November 2003. During the intervention phase, feedback about prescriptions not in accord with the guideline was discussed with around 25 prescribers every two weeks. In addition, local factors influencing antibiotic use were explored with 13 junior surgeons and 8 high level informants.
Results
While agreement was reached on the principles of antibiotic surgical prophylaxis there was no consensus on detail. Of 180 patients undergoing clean surgery throughout all phases of the study, antibiotic prophylaxis was administered to 78% compared to 98% of the 180 patients undergoing clean-contaminated surgery. Second and third generation cephalosporin antibiotics predominated in both low-risk clean and clean-contaminated operations. The timing of prophylaxis was correct in virtually all patients. The duration of prophylaxis was less than 24 hours in 96% of patients undergoing clean surgery compared to only 62% of patients undergoing clean-contaminated surgery. The intervention produced no improvement in the duration of prophylaxis nor the overuse and inappropriate choice of unnecessary broad-spectrum and expensive drugs. Interviews and focus groups revealed that an important explanation for the latter problem was Chinese government policy which expected hospitals to support themselves largely through the sale of drugs.
Conclusion
Improving antibiotic use in China will require hospital funding reform, more authoritative best-practice guidelines, and hospital authorities embracing quality improvement.
doi:10.1186/1743-8462-3-5
PMCID: PMC1524787  PMID: 16732892
10.  Political economy and population health: is Australia exceptional? 
Background
It is accepted knowledge that social and economic conditions – like education and income – affect population health. What remains uncertain is whether the degree of inequality in these conditions influences population health and if so, how. Some researchers who argue that inequalities are important, say there is a relationship between political economy, inequality and population health. Their evidence comes from comparative studies showing that countries with neo-liberal political economies generally have poorer population health outcomes than those with social or Christian democratic political economies. According to these researchers, neo-liberal political economies adopt labour market and welfare state policies that lead to greater levels of inequality and poorer population health outcomes for us all.
Discussion
Australia has experienced considerable social and economic reforms over the last 20 years, with both major political parties increasingly adopting neo-liberal policies. Despite these reforms, population health outcomes are amongst the best in the world.
Summary
Australia appears to contest theories suggesting a link between political economy and population health. To progress our understanding, researchers need to concentrate on policy areas outside health – such as welfare, economics and industrial relations. We need to do longitudinal studies on how reforms in these areas affect levels of social and economic inequality, as well population health. We need to draw on social scientific methods, especially concerning case selection, to advance our understanding of casual relationships in policy studies. It is important to find out if, and why, Australia has resisted the affects of neo-liberalism on population health so we ensure our high standards are maintained in the future.
doi:10.1186/1743-8462-3-6
PMCID: PMC1513585  PMID: 16737549
11.  The contribution of general practice based research to the development of national policy: case studies from Ireland and Australia 
Background
This paper aims to describe the influence of general practice based research on the development of two specific policy initiatives, namely the Heartwatch Programme in Ireland and the Better Outcomes in Mental Health Care (BOiMHC) program in Australia. A case study approach was used to explore the extent to which relevant general practice based research shaped these initiatives.
Results
In both case studies, a range of factors beyond general practice based research shaped the initiative in question, including political will, the involvement of stakeholders (including key opinion leaders), and the historical context. Nonetheless, the research played an important role, and was not merely put to 'symbolic use' to support a position that had already been reached independently. Rather, both case studies provide examples of 'instrumental use': in the case of Heartwatch, the research was considered early in the piece; in the case of the BOiMHC program, it had a specific impact on the detail of the components of the initiative.
Conclusion
General practice based research can influence policy-making and planning processes by strengthening the foundation of evidence upon which they draw. This influence will not occur in a vacuum, however, and general practice researchers can maximise the likelihood of their work being 'picked up' in policy if they consider the principles underpinning knowledge transfer.
doi:10.1186/1743-8462-3-4
PMCID: PMC1475588  PMID: 16686961
12.  The Australian experiment: the use of evidence based medicine for the reimbursement of surgical and diagnostic procedures (1998–2004) 
Background
In 1998 a formal process using the criteria of safety, effectiveness and cost-effectiveness (evidence based medicine) on the introduction and use of new medical procedures was implemented in Australia. As part of this process an expert panel, the Medical Services Advisory Committee (MSAC) was set up. This paper examines the effectiveness of this process based on the original criteria, that is, evidence based medicine.
Method
The data for this analysis was sourced primarily from that made available in the public domain. The MSAC web site provided Minutes from MSAC meetings; Annual Reports; Assessment and Review reports; Progress status; and Archived material.
Results
The total number of applications submitted to the MSAC has been relatively low averaging approximately only fourteen per year. Additionally, the source of applications has quickly shifted to the medical devices, equipment and diagnostic industry as being the major source of applications. An overall average time for the processing of an application is eighteen months. Negative recommendations were in most cases based on insufficient clinical evidence rather than clinical evidence that clearly demonstrated a lack of clinical effectiveness. It was rare for a recommendation, either positive or negative, to be based on cost-effectiveness.
Conclusion
New medical procedures are often the result of a process of experimentation rather than formally conducted research. Affordability and the question of who should pay for the generation, collection and analysis of the clinical evidence is perhaps the most difficult to answer. This is especially the case where the new procedure is the result of a process of experimentation with an old procedure. A cost-effective way needs to be found to collect acceptable levels of evidence proving the clinical effectiveness of these new procedures, otherwise the formal processes of evaluation such as that used by the Australian MSAC since 1998 will continue to run the risk of committing Type II errors, that is, denying access to medical procedures that are beneficial and efficient.
doi:10.1186/1743-8462-3-3
PMCID: PMC1524967  PMID: 16684362
13.  Measuring social capital in a known disadvantaged urban community – health policy implications 
Background
To assess the social capital profile of a known disadvantaged area a large cross-sectional survey was undertaken. The social capital profile of this area was compared to data from the whole of the state. The overall health status of the disadvantaged area was assessed in relation to a wide variety of social capital related variables. Univariate and multivariate analysis were undertaken.
Results
In the univariate analysis many statistically significant differences were found between the respondents in the disadvantaged area and the state estimates including overall health status, perceived attributes of the neighbourhood, levels of trust, community involvement and social activities. In the multivariate analysis very few variables were found to be statistically significantly associated with poorer health status. The variables that jointly predicted poorer health status in the disadvantaged area were older age, lower income, low sport participation, non-seeking help from neighbours and non-attendance at public meetings.
Conclusion
Measuring social capital on a population level is complex and the use of epidemiologically-based population surveys does not produce overly valuable results. The inter-relational/dependence dichotomy of social capital is not yet fully understood making meaningful measurement in the broader population extremely difficult and hence is of questionable value for policy decision making.
doi:10.1186/1743-8462-3-2
PMCID: PMC1488859  PMID: 16626499
14.  Developments in Australian general practice 2000–2002: what did these contribute to a well functioning and comprehensive Primary Health Care System? 
Background
In recent years, national and state/territory governments have undertaken an increasing number of initiatives to strengthen general practice and improve its links with the rest of the primary health care sector. This paper reviews how far these initiatives were contributing to a well functioning and comprehensive primary health care system during the period 2000–2002, using a normative model of primary health care and data from a descriptive study to evaluate progress.
Results
There was a significant number of programs, at both state/territory and national level. Most focused on individual care, particularly for chronic disease, rather than population health approaches. There was little evidence of integration across programs: each tended to be based in and focus on a single jurisdiction, and build capacity chiefly within the services funded through that jurisdiction. As a result, the overall effect was patchy, with similar difficulties being noted across all jurisdictions and little gain in overall system capacity for effective primary health care.
Conclusion
Efforts to develop more effective primary health care need a more balanced approach to reform, with a better balance across the different elements of primary health care and greater integration across programs and jurisdictions. One way ahead is to form a single funding agency, as in the UK and New Zealand, and so remove the need to work across jurisdictions and manage their competing interests. A second, perhaps less politically challenging starting point, is to create an agreed framework for primary health care within which a collective vision for primary health care can be developed, based on population health needs, and the responsibilities of different sectors services can be negotiated. Either of these approaches would be assisted by a more systematic and comprehensive program of research and evaluation for primary health care.
doi:10.1186/1743-8462-3-1
PMCID: PMC1379649  PMID: 16412243

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