$1 million study to lift the hood on what ails regional Victoria

The University of Melbourne is teaming up with health providers to take a snapshot of chronic disease and access to health care in four towns in north-east Victoria’s Goulburn Valley region.

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The National Health and Medical Research Council-funded Crossroads study will be the broadest to date in regional health, taking in all chronic diseases and health services across all adult age groups.

Around 1800 households in Cobram, Benalla, Seymour and Shepparton/Mooroopna will be randomly selected and surveyed. The findings will be made available to health providers and communities to help shape services and attract funding.

The 18-month study is led by University of Melbourne Professor Lisa Bourke and Dr Kristen Glenister from the Department of Rural Health, and Professor David Simmons from the University of Western Sydney.

Professor Bourke said with a population of about 80,000, the Goulburn Valley faced challenges common to many rural areas, such as an older population and increased rates of chronic diseases.

“While you would think that a fruit-growing region would offer great access to fresh fruit and vegies and being out in the fresh air, the Goulburn Valley has one of the highest rates of obesity and heart disease in rural Victoria,” Professor Bourke said.

The project will compare results with a 2001/2002 study on measures such as wait times to see GPs (two-three weeks in the original study), and explore anecdotal evidence that people are travelling to metro areas because they are unaware that some services exist locally.

“Having appropriate health services accessible in rural areas plays a huge part in health outcomes,” Professor Bourke said.

“Melbourne is at least two hours away and if you live in Cobram, one of the outlying towns in this study, you’re still 90 km from the nearest emergency department, in Shepparton.”

The second phase of the study will see 900 participants recruited to attend a clinic for a range of tests for liver, kidney, heart and cognitive function, and to identify undiagnosed or poorly managed conditions. Dr Kristen Glenister said they will also receive a free dental check-up.

“Poor dental health is a classic reflection of access to care as well as overall health, because it is linked to diseases like diabetes and heart disease,” Dr Glenister said.

“We’re indebted to our nine partners in this project for providing staff and facilities to run these clinics.”

Study partners include hospitals in Shepparton, Cobram, Benalla and Seymour, as well as Moira Shire, Goulburn Valley Primary Care Partnership, Shepparton Access, Primary Care Connect and Alfred Health.