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UNSW to lead $10.9 million research program to make health care safer

Wed, 19/12/2012
University of New South Wales (UNSW)


UNSW wins major Federal Government grant to improve patient outcomes
• Medical errors, delays in treatment and below standard care under scrutiny
• Innovating to put patients at the centre of quality health care

The University of New South Wales (UNSW) will lead an international research team to tackle the significant risks patients face in modern health care systems like Australia’s – including medical errors, delays in treatment and sub-standard care.

The research program aims to devise new ways to ensure patient needs – not bureaucratic priorities or political issues – are at the centre of our health services.

Experts in health care systems and medical safety from UNSW’s Australian Institute of Health Innovation (AIHI) have been awarded $10.9 million over five years to work with researchers from Europe and the UK to tackle the complex challenges in health-care delivery which are compromising patient safety in Australia and worldwide.

The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) program grant, announced today by the Federal Minister for Health, Tanya Plibersek, will fund innovative research into why – after decades of steady improvements in medical science and technology, a large body of research identifying risks in health care, and major efforts to improve patient safety after high-profile disasters – the rate of failure remains stubbornly high in Australia and elsewhere.

The AIHI’s landmark CareTrack study, published by the Medical Journal of Australia in July, found Australians receive appropriate care in just 57 per cent of their encounters with health care professionals for 22 common conditions. The only other such comprehensive national study turned up similar results for the United States.

This means that although much care in Australia and elsewhere is world class, some patients still receive care that is highly variable, frequently inappropriate and too often, unsafe,” says Chief Investigator and Director of the AIHI, Professor Jeffrey Braithwaite.

Professor Braithwaite cites:
• A system-wide 10 per cent error rate, which translates into 10,000 deaths a day worldwide.
• An average of 5.8 prescribing errors per admission in Australian hospitals.
• The fact many pathology and radiology test results remain unread for long periods – or are never reviewed – increasing patient risk and wasting scarce resources.

The UNSW team’s area of research – the relatively new field of implementation science – focuses on translating our growing knowledge of health care systems into better services for patients.

This project will explore new approaches to the principal problems at the front line – patient care and safety. It will ask far-reaching questions about how to reinvent health care, what needs to change to improve outcomes, and how advances in medical research and practice, which can too often be ignored, can be taken up and implemented. The effort to understand problems from a whole-of-system point of view will help us rethink how to make care safer and more efficient.

The UNSW team includes six of the strongest health services researchers in the world: Jeffrey Braithwaite, Professor of Health Systems Research, Professors Johanna Westbrook and Enrico Coiera (Health Informatics), Professor Bill Runciman (University of NSW and University of South Australia -Human Factors), Professor Ric Day (Clinical Pharmacology), and Professor Ken Hillman (Intensive Care).

The international team includes experts from Europe and the UK. By combining Australian research and such insight into the quality of health care in the European Union, new international benchmarks can be established for health-care quality.

We are very grateful to Minister Plibersek and the NHMRC for the trust they have placed in us. Our past research has provided us with good evidence about where many of the problems lie but we desperately need to understand how to turn this information into new processes that deliver much better care,” says Professor Braithwaite.

He says the researchers are not interested in singling out health care professionals who work very hard, often in challenging conditions.

Health care errors occur because very complex systems are under stress, so we need to understand how to deliver systems-wide solutions.

We need to translate our knowledge of systematic shortfalls into much smarter health care for the benefit of all Australians,” he says.

Media contacts
Louise Williams 0407 061 209 Louise [dot] Williams [at] unsw [dot] edu [dot] au
Chris Henning 0422 319 184 ChrisHenning [at] writemedia [dot] com [dot] au