Australian-first plan to boost primary care research to improve patient care

RACGP

An Australian-first plan to boost primary care research and drive improved patient outcomes, has been backed by $1 million in grant funding.

The RACGP, together with TROPHI partners – the Monash University Department of General Practice and the University of Melbourne Department of General Practice – have welcomed the grant from the Windermere Foundation.

TROPHI will establish a first-of-its-kind framework in Australia to boost general practice and primary care research, built on local community networks and collaboration among GPs, nursing and allied health practitioners, and academics.

More than eight in 10 Australians consult their GP at least once a year, and two million people are seen by a GP each week, compared to less than 1 in 1000 Australians admitted to hospital each week. Despite this, only a fraction of medical research occurs in general practice. Less than 1% of the Medical Research Future Fund’s 10-year Investment Plan has been allocated to primary care research.

A key issue is that, unlike hospital settings where the vast majority of research occurs, the general practice research landscape is distributed, with thousands of GPs spread across the country. This lack of centralisation or a ‘front door’ for research hinders engagement and investment.

Chair RACGP Victoria Dr Anita Munoz said: “For too long general practice and primary care research has been shockingly undervalued and underfunded.

“The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the significant gap in primary care research capacity in Australia. In the United Kingdom, primary care researchers were able to rapidly establish a large trial on the best treatment for mild to moderate coronavirus in primary care.

“It’s highly unlikely that Australia could rapidly implement a similar large-scale national trial because we don’t have a framework for it – this is a huge gap, and our healthcare system and patients suffer for it.

“We need to be able to rapidly generate evidence from primary care, where the majority of healthcare is undertaken. Not only for immediate health crises but all kinds of care GPs provide, such as chronic condition management and preventative health. Investing more in general practice research can make for a healthier community, and reduce healthcare costs overall.

“Supporting GP researchers is among the RACGP’s top priorities. Research into general practice is best done by those who really understand the complexities of caring for patients in general practice. This funding will help do just that.”

The Chair of the Windermere Foundation, Rowan Kennedy, said: “The TROPHI partners aim to solve this problem by establishing a first-of-its-kind framework in Australia, which will foster collaborations between GPs, clinical practitioners and academics to boost general practice research translating into health outcome improvements for all Australians.

“The TROPHI project will be initially developed in outer eastern Melbourne, as this growing community, with representation from both urban and regional communities, will reap the benefits of grassroots clinical research before going on to inform a national framework for high quality general practice research across Australia.

“TROPHI will generate research with real benefits for the Australian community and beyond.”

Professor Lena Sanci, Chair and Head of Department of General Practice, University of Melbourne said: “Our TROPHI initiative will build on the excellence of each of our universities’ existing practice-based research networks.

“It will bring together local community, GPs and other primary care providers, and primary care organisations to build the research and implementation skills they need to effectively translate their priority research into better health outcomes for the community.”

Professor Grant Russell, general practitioner and Professor of Primary Care Research at Monash University said that TROPHI aims to give those working at the coalface in general practice new pathways for career development and clinical practice.

“Our collaborative approach will help GPs working with TROPHI identify and answer critical questions that matter to them and their patients.”

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