Institute for Health Transformation Director to lead $9M MRFF grant with Western Alliance

Healthcare for older people living in rural and regional western Victoria could look very different within five years, thanks to a new research project funded through the Federal Government Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF).

Written by Judy Baulch

The $9M DELIVER project aims to improve health outcomes for older Australians in regional, rural and remote areas with feasibility-tested interventions to improve the timeliness, accessibility to and integration of care. This should also result in fewer avoidable hospitalisations and improved patient experience.

Led by the Western Alliance Academic Health Science Centre (Western Alliance), of which Deakin is a major partner, in partnership with healthcare consumers, regional and rural health services, universities and primary healthcare providers across western Victoria, the project will identify and build a suite of programs to improve care for people who frequently present to the Emergency Department and extend and improve in-home healthcare, including cancer care at home.

Project Director Professor Anna Peeters is Principal Research Translation Investigator at Western Alliance and Director of the Institute for Health Transformation at Deakin University. Professor Peeters said DELIVER would address key challenges to providing sustainable and effective home-based care to older people in rural areas, initially in Western Victoria but with potential to deliver tested programs nationally.

“Australians living in rural, regional, and remote communities face unique challenges due to their geographic location,” she said.

“Improving the care of older Australians will address the significant issue of 750,000 potentially avoidable hospitalisations a year in Australia. These rates increase with age and remoteness.”

Professor Peeters explained that older people often have more complex health needs, including frailty, multi-morbidity, and cognitive impairment, resulting in a higher need for care, and reduced capacity to access care. This is compounded in rural settings by large travel distances, variable infrastructure, and reduced availability of specialist care.

“For older people, healthcare delivered at home can reduce the large disparities in healthcare quality and outcomes experienced by rural populations, and address barriers such as geography and social structures that impact negatively on health service access,” Professor Peeters said.

She added the awarding of the funding was timely, given the way the COVID-19 pandemic has shone a light on the need for healthcare in rural and regional Victoria to be able to rapidly respond to local needs.

“DELIVER aims to develop a streamlined process for rural healthcare providers to rapidly access and test relevant evidence to help them make decisions about which digital and non-digital solutions could be embedded into home-based care to improve service delivery, patient experience, and health outcomes for the communities they serve.

“This research has the ability to be translated at a local level. It is being co-designed and tested across the key settings, so there is a real chance it can be implemented during the five-year period. That means we can make a real difference in people’s lives during the five years by implementing research interventions they have contributed to and that meet their needs.”

Western Alliance Executive Director Professor Warren Payne said the funding will also significantly build the capacity for health and medical research across Western Victoria.

“This project will assist our partners to develop their capacity to undertake health and medical research that meets the needs of their communities. In this way, we are confident that the lessons learned from the research will be fully implemented to the ultimate benefit of the communities of western Victoria,” he said.

The project partners include:

  • Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association
  • Ballarat Health Services
  • Barwon Health
  • Beaufort and Skipton Health Service
  • Central Highlands Rural Health
  • Colac Area Health
  • Consumers Health Forum of Australia
  • Deakin Rural Health
  • Deakin University
  • East Grampians Health Service
  • Edenhope and District Memorial Hospital
  • Federation University Australia
  • Maryborough District Health Service
  • Melbourne Academic Centre for Health
  • Monash Partners
  • National Ageing Research Institute
  • Rural Northwest Health
  • South West Healthcare
  • St John of God Health Care
  • Stawell Regional Health
  • Terang and Mortlake Health Service
  • Victorian Collaborative Healthcare Recovery Initiative
  • Victorian Department of Health
  • West Wimmera Health Service
  • Western District Health Service
  • Western Victoria Primary Health Network
  • Wimmera Health Care Group