Partnership attracts major funding

A $418,183 National Health and Medical Research Council grant will allow La Trobe Rural Health School and their partners to test an innovative community participation model that will change the way health services are delivered to rural communities.

A collection of model teeth‘It is generally acknowledged that people living in rural and regional locations experience poorer health than their metropolitan counterparts. Involving communities directly in the planning, design and delivery of their health services is an innovative approach that we hope will improve the health of people living outside metropolitan cities,’ said Head of La Trobe Rural Health School, Professor Farmer.

The research will be led by Professor Farmer.  It will be based on an earlier study in Scotland on community participation entitled Remote Service Futures, for which Professor Farmer won a Scottish Government innovation award.

Professor Farmer said the traditional model uses a top down approach, where policy makers, service managers and health professionals develop services that are not necessarily designed to meet the needs of a particular community.

‘The model that will be used in this study will empower community members to determine what is important to them in terms of their specific health care needs rather than relying on a one size fits all design.’

Six rural communities across Victoria and Queensland will participate in the study, which aims to identify the best way to engage communities in designing their health care model. The research team will then measure how the model translates in practice to improvements in health.

The National Health and Medical Research Council have funded $418,183 for the study, with partner funding of $525,681.00.  La Trobe University Vice-Chancellor John Dewar welcomed the funding announcement.

‘La Trobe University is committed to developing research that contributes to building healthy communities.   We are delighted that the Federal Government has endorsed the important role that research within the La Trobe Rural Health School plays in addressing the issues directly relevant to people living in rural locations.’

La Trobe Rural Health School is partnering with the Loddon Mallee Murray Medicare Local, James Cook University, Townsville Mackay Medicare Local, Dental Health Services Victoria, the Royal Flying Doctors Service (Victoria and Queensland) and The Victorian Department of Health.  

The project will explore how the oral health of rural communities may be improved when they participate in developing health plans specific to their needs.

Professor Farmer said that dental care is one of Australia’s most prevalent health problems and she was delighted that the LRHS and its partners had been successful in winning the highly competitive funds from the NHMRC.

‘We have chosen oral health as the basis for this study because, in the rural context, oral health is particularly important as rates of complete tooth loss and untreated tooth decay are much higher than in urban areas.  

‘Poor oral health links closely with mental health, cardiac disease, cancer and diabetes so it’s vital that we investigate ways to address this issue.’

Dr Mandy Kenny, Head of the La Trobe Rural Health School research program and a chief investigator on the grant said that communities, researchers, practitioners and policy makers would be involved in exploring and testing the model in the Australian context.   

‘Whilst evidence suggests that community participation is particularly significant for rural communities, there is a major gap in knowledge of how community participation can actually occur,’ said Dr Kenny.

‘This research aims to fill that knowledge gap by providing new knowledge related to the improvement of oral health in rural communities.

‘The three-year study will contribute to international knowledge about the impact of community participation in healthcare planning.’

Loddon Mallee Murray Medicare Local CEO, Matt Jones said that community participation is very important to the work and approach of Medicare Locals.

‘Medicare Locals are keen to identify ways in which meaningful community participation can occur. This project provides a fantastic opportunity to involve local people in planning to improve services and health outcomes.

‘The research will contribute significantly to the limited evidence currently available regarding community participation in planning and design of primary healthcare.’


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