AUSTRALIANS, like many citizens around the world, are facing a watershed in the way we view and implement the delivery of health care.
With an ageing population and a seemingly unstoppable escalation in the incidence of chronic disease, our future health care challenges and the associated burgeoning costs are now well acknowledged.
What is less clear is how we can effectively address them.
One of the real obstacles to the development of an agile and self-improving health system is that the enormous advances in our understanding and treatment of disease are not always being effectively and rapidly translated into better health outcomes.
We also need to change the economic climate of the health sector with its persistent focus on the acute end of the system — on consumption rather than production, instead of on more systemic, far-reaching reform.
In short, there remain very real and deep disparities between the quality of our health and medical research (HMR) and the quality of our health care delivery.
The focus on health reform initiated under the former Rudd government predominantly concentrated on administrative restructuring.
However, it does provide a good opportunity to emphasise that the efficient and effective delivery of health care is critically underpinned by new health and medical knowledge gained through research.
As we look to ways of dealing with our nation’s health care challenges over coming decades, the sustainable integration of HMR into a new and improved health system presents a very real way of overcoming some of the obstacles in our path.
The nexus of a clinical and research interface is the clinical researcher who provides a vital, two-way conduit between basic research of clinical relevance and its translation into clinical practice.
The pressures on clinical researchers are both temporal and financial, but there is also a need to change the mindset surrounding the role for HMR in a clinical setting, and to address the traditional disconnect between research and the delivery of health care.
Innovative schemes in the United States and United Kingdom have attempted to capitalise on this concept through the development of academic health science centres that partner universities and health care providers with a focus on research, education, training and clinical care.
There seem few barriers to similar initiatives flourishing in Australia, allowing our world-class HMR to realise its true potential.
Dr Butt is President of the Australian Society for Medical Research and a breast cancer researcher at the Garvan Institute in Sydney.
Posted 11 October 2010