Paving the way for rural health services

The state of health care in north-east Victoria will be revealed early next year as University of Melbourne academics prepare to release the results of a landmark research project.

Led by the University’s Department of Rural Health, the Crossroads project is a 15-year follow-up study designed to understand the prevalence of chronic health conditions in the Goulburn Valley and the impact of access to care.

Around 3600 households in Cobram, Benalla, Seymour and Shepparton/Mooroopna were randomly selected for the survey, and 2700 people from those households completed the comprehensive questionnaire. Over 600 went on to complete a medical screening clinic for undiagnosed disease.

University of Melbourne’s Professor Lisa Bourke said the ultimate aim of the project is to see health services not only improved, but better tailored to what the local community needs and wants.

“Through Crossroads we want to inform Goulburn Valley residents to help shape their own health care system going forward. By understanding more about undiagnosed disease and barriers to care, we can help local health care providers identify gaps in the system and plan for the future.”

“We need to create models of health services that will work for the local population. It's very exciting to be able to provide access to quality information that’s scientifically valid, to help health providers make strategic decisions and build cases for funding,” Professor Bourke said.

The Crossroads project is a collaboration with hospitals in Shepparton, Cobram, Benalla and Seymour, along with Moira Shire Council, Goulburn Valley Primary Care Partnership, Shepparton Access, Primary Care Connect, Greater Shepparton City Council and Alfred Health.

Professor Bourke said the impact of the original Crossroads data from 15 years ago was immediately evident when the search for partners for the current study commenced.

“When I set out to redo this project, the support from local health services was very, very easy to harness. The insights they received last time have helped them make decisions, advocate for money and redesign screening programs. There’s a lot more attention on health prevention and health promotion now because they're targeting key issues where there is quality local evidence around that,” she said.

The Crossroads project has been well supported by the local community as well, with an excellent response to both the survey and the opportunity to participate in screening clinics.

“We screened for a range of illnesses including diabetes, heart disease, hearing, lung function, mental health and even provided participants with a dental check. The feedback was overwhelmingly positive; for some people it was an opportunity to have tests and be screened on conditions that they've wanted to be tested on but hadn't really had the opportunity and for others it was a chance to connect on a social level and contribute to their community,” Professor Bourke said.

This University of Melbourne project is one of the most detailed health studies undertaken in rural Australia, and the first reports are due to be released in March next year.