The partnership between Epworth, Victoria’s largest not-for-profit private hospital group, and the world-leading research capabilities of IHT was initiated in 2004 by Deakin’s School of Nursing and Midwifery.

Among many beneficial initiatives to arise from the long-term collaboration has been the MyStay program, said Jo McDonall, an Associate Professor within Deakin’s School of Nursing and Midwifery and a member of IHT’s Centre for Quality and Patient Safety Research. “The focus of this project aligns with the Centre’s focus on research to improve the patient experience,” she said.

Developed in real-world clinical settings in consultation with Epworth patients, nurses, physiotherapist and doctors, MyStay provides patients with direct access to key information following surgery.

Information available includes pain management options, an exercise program, recovery goals, and an outline of what progress to expect each day after surgery. MyStay was developed to facilitate acute recovery during the patient’s hospital stay.

Assoc. Prof. McDonall said a trend towards shorter hospital stays dictated that patients need to play a more active role in their own recovery.

“MyStay is really the vehicle to give patients control over their own healthcare,” she said. “When I started nursing, patients might have been in hospital for up to 10 days after knee replacement surgery. Now the average is three. So patients are going home in an acute phase of recovery, possibly with high levels of pain. Giving them the tools they need to be able to recover when they leave hospital is so important, and an important part of the nurses’ role while they’re in inpatient care.”

The catalyst for the development of the MyStay app was the rich combination of IHT’s academic research skills and the real-world experience of Epworth clinicians.

Assoc. Prof. McDonall said the MyStay program was developed as a singular reference point for staff, the patient, and their family or carer, and is accessible either through the point-of-care system at Epworth, or via their smart device.

The program was initially designed for patients recovering from knee replacement surgery. After a successful rollout, it has since been expanded to include hip replacement, cardiac surgery and spinal surgery. A new version of the MyStay program targeting obstetrics – assisting new mothers and their babies – is currently undergoing trials.

During the program’s development, a randomised control trial tracked one group of patients who used MyStay, and another group utilising pre-existing methodologies. It found that the patients using MyStay were likely to be discharged from hospital a day earlier, were more active, reported less pain, were more satisfied overall with their stay at Epworth HealthCare, and were more likely to recommend the same surgery to a friend or family member.

In 2022, the MyStay program was a finalist in Research Australia’s 19th Annual Health and Medical Research Awards under the Griffith University Discovery Award.

The MyStay program was developed together with Professor Richard de Steiger and Emeritus Professor Mari Botti, and evaluated by Assoc. Prof. McDonall as part of her PhD program.

Professor Ana Hutchinson, who is the Chair of Nursing in the Epworth-IHT partnership and also a member of IHT’s Centre for Quality and Patient Safety Research, is continuing to lead the program of research for the MyStay program with Prof. de Steiger and Assoc. Prof. McDonall.

Prof. Hutchinson said IHT aimed to continue to broaden the scope and applicability of MyStay by rolling it out to other health services. “And then one of the next things we’re really interested in exploring is developing the app for people from diverse backgrounds and different language groups,” she said.

Prof. Hutchinson’s role is co-funded by both institutions, with the aim to facilitate connection and understanding between IHT’s researchers and Epworth’s clinical staff. This ensures Epworth clinicians have access to the latest research opportunities, while IHT research projects are designed in conjunction with clinicians, to ensure they meet the needs of the hospital and its patients.

“Working within the health setting actually makes a difference to our study design and the focus of the outcomes that we measure,” Prof. Hutchinson said. “One important difference is that we really aim to engage consumers at every point of the research development process and ensure that when studies are designed, some of the outcomes measured are what we would call patient experience outcomes.”

The partnership harnesses the synergies between the two institutions, said Prof. Hutchinson, who leverages 30 years’ experience as a clinical nurse and researcher, including a decade in ICU, and overseeing public health programs.

“My own background gives me an in-depth understanding of what nurses’ working environment is like, what the issues are that they’re working with, and it really helps me to build rapport with clinicians and to develop research projects that are feasible within the clinical context,” she said.

“My role is to provide a contact point with research experts who can then work closely with clinicians across the whole sector, so that they can build their research capacity and expertise.”

IHT also utilises strengths not just in driving positive healthcare outcomes, but also drawing on Deakin University’s broader capabilities. “A particular area of interest where we can draw on the strengths of IHT is looking at issues around health, workforce development and also the strengths of Deakin in health economics,” Prof. Hutchinson said.

IHT Director, Alfred Deakin Professor Anna Peeters, said the Epworth partnership is one of many examples of pioneering collaborations administered by IHT, which works to accelerate the translation of evidence into practice, ensuring that research focuses on what matters most.

“One of the most exciting things for me as the Director of the Institute for Health Transformation from our Epworth partnership is that projects that have originated from that partnership, like MyStay, are now implemented in routine healthcare across the Epworth HealthCare group,” she said.

“That’s a fantastic outcome for our researchers, but also for the patients and the healthcare community more generally.”

Prof. Peeters said IHT would welcome new industry partnerships, and offered a number of ways to work together that can best meet the needs of both parties.

Assoc. Prof. McDonall said the MyStay program was also developed to assist family or friends of the patient to get actively involved in the post-operative recovery. “Relatives often use MyStay as a tool to encourage their relatives to get up and be going like, ‘Mum, you’re supposed to be sitting out of bed today for your meals.,” she said.

Feedback from clinical staff indicated not all patients were ready to process information about their care at the time of a physiotherapist or doctor’s visit. “So having a tool such as MyStay at the patient’s bedside, that they can pick up and access whenever they’re feeling well enough to listen and watch, is really important.”

Patients can also continue to be guided through their recovery after being discharged. “They can go home with MyStay in their back pocket and, ‘OK, these are the exercises that I still need to do and remember’, and they can watch how to do them so they can continue their recovery at home,” Assoc. Prof. McDonall said.

“For nurses it’s not only about looking after patients when they’re in acute hospital, it’s really important to give patients the skills and knowledge they need to continue that recovery safely at home.

“The research behind initiatives like this is really cutting-edge. It’s evidence based, and it’s making a difference to patients and their outcomes.”