Interactive health atlas zones in on northern Queensland needs
A James Cook University research team has harnessed data to create an open-access, interactive map that empowers northern Queensland communities to have a say in health service planning.
The map, titled the Northern Queensland Health Atlas, will pilot the principles of place-based planning by increasing data accessibility for regional, rural and remote communities.
The atlas gives users the ability to filter and overlay data on the burden of disease or ill health, socio-demographic information, the availability of general practice and other specialist services, as well as indicators of health system performance in specific geographic areas.
JCU Associate Professor Stephanie Topp said the atlas addressed one of the main barriers to place-based health planning: data accessibility.
“The information that would shape decisions about how a health service could or should run is located in so many different places, not just within Queensland but Australia,” A/Prof Topp said.
“The idea of place-based planning is to bring the data and the decision-making processes around health service formation and coordination closer to the communities themselves.”
The health atlas increases the accessibility and agility with which health needs can be compared to service access and availability.
“Making that data more accessible to everyone in the health system, including those who need to use it, can only serve to better inform and promote the sorts of decisions that will produce better health outcomes.
“Joined-up information like this is the basis of good planning and efficient use of resources. The atlas, as a proof of concept, is an important flag for the need for something like this at a much larger scale,” A/Prof Topp said.
It is a key component of the three-year Integrating Health Care Planning for Health and Prosperity in North Queensland project funded by the Cooperative Research Centre for Developing Northern Australia (CRCNA), part of the Australian Government’s Cooperative Research Centre Program (CRCP), with a financial contribution from the Tropical Australian Academic Health Centre (TAAHC).
The JCU research team comprises lead investigator Professor Sarah Larkins with co-investigators Associate Professor Stephanie Topp, Professor Maxine Whittaker, Dr Alex Edelman, Dr Nishila Moodley, and project manager Dr Deb Smith, data manager Dr Karen Johnston, and health economist Mr Chris Rouen.
CRCNA CEO Anne Stünzner said place-based planning was crucial to ensure the best use of resources for the best possible return at all levels of health planning.
“The CRCNA is excited the health atlas is a first step toward a much broader application of this principle,” Ms Stunzner said.
“This project is a great example of industry-led research driving meaningful outcomes for communities, giving people on the ground something tangible to coalesce around and advocate for.”
Moving into the second phase of the three-year project, community members in the northwest Queensland town of Hughenden will use the atlas data and local knowledge to identify opportunities to improve efficiencies in health service delivery.
Atlas statistics were sourced from databases including the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, Federal Department of Health, the Australian Bureau of Statistics and Queensland Health.
Community members will be involved in co-design discussions to identify local issues and contribute to developing strategies that can be implemented through the project.
Local project officers will help facilitate a series of workshopped discussions with local stakeholders, including community members and health providers, on the health needs indicated in the atlas, guided by a collaborative reference group who will identify feasible actions to address gaps at the local level. Whilst the project concludes in April 2024, changes aim to be sustainable beyond the project.
The project is a partnership with TAAHC, including the five northern hospitals and health services, the NQ Primary Health Network and Queensland Aboriginal and Islander Health Council. Partners from the Northern Territory and Kimberley are also involved.
A/Prof Topp said a goal of the project was to create a process that allowed local stakeholders to participate in and regain control of some of the healthcare decision making in their communities, generating the momentum to address structural issues through advocacy.
“There's a dual benefit of taking control of those pieces that are able to be managed at a local level and empowering people to have a louder and more assertive voice when it comes to advocating for change at the central level,” she said.
It is anticipated the project will soon extend to another three communities across northern and central Queensland.
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