From pioneering an innovative approach that uses ‘e-Health Record algorithms’ to detect chronic disease earlier, to creating a new model of care for asthma patients, the team are forging powerful collaborations capable of making inroads into Australia’s greatest health challenges.
A new Grattan Institute report found chronic diseases are the biggest killer in the country, making up 85 per cent of the burden of disease, and contributing to 9 in 10 deaths. Almost half of the population lives with one chronic disease and almost half of Australians over the age of 65 live with two or more.
The situation is even worse for disadvantaged Australians, who are twice as likely to live with two or more conditions.
Associate Professor Craig Nelson, who leads the alliance, says that Western Health provides healthcare to a catchment that encompasses areas of high disadvantage, which has corresponding higher than average rates of cancer, heart disease, stroke and mental illness.
“Chronic disease can negatively impact a person’s health and quality of life, but also their social and economic position, and these impacts are even greater for people living with more than one chronic disease,” A/Prof Nelson said.
“There’s a lot of overlap between chronic diseases – including risk factors – so we established the alliance to bring together efforts across disease specialties. To look at what can be done to keep people out of hospital for treatment of their chronic disease – or what can be done to prevent them from getting chronic disease in the first place.”
The Alliance brings together clinicians and researchers from Western Health, academic partners, primary care and health promotion organisations to work on research programs that focus on the prevention, diagnosis and management of chronic disease.
Several of the flagship research programs examine ways of detecting chronic disease earlier, so that GPs can identify these patients earlier and put them on an appropriate treatment plan to hopefully prevent their condition worsening.
A/Prof Nelson, who is also the Director of Nephrology at Western Health, said that the western suburbs of Melbourne have twice the incidence of diabetes compared to national averages. About 30 per cent of people end up on dialysis within three months of discovering they’ve got chronic kidney disease, which is one of the highest rates in Australia.
“Unfortunately, they’re only getting tested when they have symptoms. Early detection means having more treatment options available that can potentially slow the progress of kidney disease without having to resort to dialysis,” A/Prof Nelson said.
Two of the alliance’s programs in collaboration with the University of Melbourne – Chronic Disease IMPACT and Future Health Today – are technology platforms that have been rolled out at GP clinics to aid early detection and management of conditions, such as: chronic kidney disease, cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes, resulting in better patient outcomes.
Another innovative project is examining whether the introduction of an asthma nurse-led education program can improve control of the disease and reduce flare ups in specific groups of patients.
Nationally, deaths from asthma are twice as high in those from areas of disadvantage, in younger patients and those from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD)communities. Poor asthma control often results in frequent hospital visits, and time away from work and school.
“Collaboration is key to the success of the Alliance. We welcome interest from researchers of all levels, clinical trial sponsors, health promotions teams and clinicians who are passionate about reducing the burden of chronic disease amongst the community.”
Visit the website: whcda.wh.org.au