Heart and cancer patients to benefit from Institute’s new NHMRC Partnership Projects

Australians will benefit from an improved cancer phone information and support service, and improved heart failure specialist care in regional communities, thanks to two innovative new National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) research projects.

Written by Claire Whiteley

Deakin University’s Institute for Health Transformation was awarded two of ten “next-generation” NHMRC Partnership Projects announced by the Minister for Health, the Hon Greg Hunt MP on 27 March, and has a researcher involved in another project led by University of Sydney.

Institute Director Professor Anna Peeters said she was pleased and proud at the announcement.

“It’s wonderful that our world-class health research and the partnerships that support it and translate it are being recognised through these grants. These projects will address a number of the key challenges facing our health systems and their translation into health practice will greatly improve the care that’s delivered to heart and cancer patients,” she said.

Improved phone support service for cancer patients and carers

Dr Nikki McCaffrey from the Institute’s Deakin Health Economics, will lead the four-year project, ‘Defining and optimising the economic and social return on investment of telephone cancer information and support services for all Australians’.

The research is the first of its kind worldwide and will provide an evidence base for phone support services to improve cancer outcomes and maximise return on investment. While the project will focus on Cancer Council Victoria’s 13 11 20 service, findings will be shared around the nation.

“Over one million Australians are living with cancer, its impacts and side effects, including patients and family members, but over 50 per cent of these people have unmet supportive care needs. This project aims to address that,” Dr McCaffrey said.

“Cancer diagnosis and treatment is improving, and this means there are more Australians living with cancer and its effects. Our world-first research will look at the costs and benefits – health, economic and social – of the telephone information and support service currently being offered by Cancer Council Victoria and determine how it can be even more effective.”

The project will investigate the best ways to deliver, promote and target beneficiaries of the phone service, including exploring how best to reach people with limited access, such as those living in rural and remote regions and people from disadvantaged backgrounds.

“We’ll be looking at the cost of providing the service and attaching a value to the benefits. Operated by experienced cancer nurses, Cancer Council Victoria’s 13 11 20 is a very important service, providing health, social, emotional and practical support, like navigating the health system or accessing financial support,” Dr McCaffrey said.

“Our work will build understanding about how to provide the right support and care at the right time for people affected by cancer and their families and achieve better outcomes with the resources available.”

Other Institute researchers involved in the project are Professor Trish Livingston, Professor Cathy Mihalopoulos, Professor Liliana Orellana, Dr Lidia Engel and Professor Alison Hutchinson.

The funding partners are Cancer Council Australia, Cancer Council Victoria, the Victorian Department of Health, Breast Cancer Network Australia and Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia.

Better Heart Failure guidelines and care for regional Australians

Professor Andrea Driscoll from the Institute’s Centre for Quality and Patient Safety Research will lead the five-year project, ‘I-HEART: Implementation of Heart Failure Guidelines in Regional Australia’.

“Heart failure has a higher rate of mortality and leads to poorer quality of life for regional Victorians. This project aims to improve heart failure survival and recovery in regional Australia,” Professor Driscoll said.

“Through evidence-based best practice, we know we can improve the translation of the clinical guidelines and reduce mortality rates and hospitalisations in regional Australia where patients have less access to specialist medical teams.”

Working with six regional hospitals, her research team will run workshops and oversee several initiatives to improve patient outcomes. These include reducing the time heart failure patients wait to be reviewed by cardiologists and improving processes for prescribing medications, which will reduce hospitalisation and mortality rates.

“Regional hospitals have a higher rate of rehospitalisation and mortality, partly because people may be sicker living in rural areas and partly because there isn’t adequate access to cardiologists and nurse practitioners,” said Professor Driscoll.

“We will be linking patients to specialist care at Austin Health and St Vincent’s through telehealth, as well as running workshops and working with GPs and regional services to improve care and to support their management of patients in the community.”

Other Institute researchers involved in the project are Professor Alison Hutchinson and Professor Liliana Orellana. 

The funding partners are: Albury Wodonga Health, Colac Area Health, National Heart Foundation, Austin Health, Swan Hill District Health, the Victorian Department of Health, South West Healthcare, East Grampians Health Service, Novartis Australia, Western Alliance, Murray Primary Health Network, St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne and Castlemaine Health.

Professor Julie Considine is CIC for the University of Sydney-led ‘Improving the safety and quality of emergency nursing care’.