child health

Jul 29, 2011

5 comments

Thanks to Froncesca Jackson-Webb, for providing this update of the latest health and medical reading at The Conversation.

From scraping by to pizza and pie: how protein price drives obesity

By Rob Brooks, Professor of Evolutionary Ecology; Director, Evolution & Ecology Research Centre at the University of NSW

For the first time ever, the number of overweight people on Earth outweighs the number that are undernourished. From the obesity crisis flows a cascade of health and social problems: it burdens healthcare services, hobbles workforces and ruins lives.

Yet despite its tragic importance, we still don’t fully understand the causes of the obesity crisis. Energy-dense foods are definitely part of the problem though.

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Square eyes: how much TV is too much for kids?

By Chris Rissel, Professor of Public Health at University of Sydney

If you’ve ever sat your toddler down in front of the television to give yourself a few minutes of much-needed rest, you’re certainly not alone.

But for many parents, those few minutes of bliss that come with quiet kids can turn into hours.

The Longitudinal Study of Australian Children found kids as young as three years could turn on the television themselves and were watching more than nine hours a week.

*** Continue reading “The latest health & medical reading from The Conversation”

conflicts of interest

Jul 29, 2011

5 comments

Public health policy consultant Margo Saunders has taken a look at some recent reports from the US Institute of Medicine, and considers some possible lessons for Australia.

Margo Saunders writes:

While progress on so many health issues in Australia seems to be frustratingly slow, the US Institute of Medicine (IOM) is charging head with a raft of new initiatives.

Commissioned by government, private sector and non-profit organisations, these include a consensus report on preventive health services for women, a workshop on the gender-specific reporting of scientific data, and a consensus report proposing a national surveillance system for cardiovascular and chronic lung disease. The second report on front-of-pack food labeling systems is expected within the next few months.

As noted in an earlier post on the IOM, the Institute seems to occupy a particularly useful space, especially in the light of questions raised by Australian commentators about Australia’s health research infrastructure (do we need a research, reporting and evaluation capacity independent of government and the bureaucracy?) and about the divide between academic research and the needs of evidence-informed policy. Continue reading “Tackling the health issues left in the “too hard” basket: what can we learn from the US?”

As recently mentioned, there will be a health focus to a workshop on climate change in Melbourne this weekend that is being put on by the Green Institute.

One of the speakers is Senator Richard Di Natale, the Greens health spokesperson, who writes below that we need to focus more on the underlying causes of poor health.

On related themes, don’t miss this New York Times article which profiles an organisation working on the social causes of poor healt.  Health Leads trains about 1000 volunteers each year to staff resource desks in the waiting rooms of hospital clinics or health centers in Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, New York, Providence, R.I., and Washington.

At these sites, doctors now regularly “prescribe” a wide range of basic resources — like food assistance, housing improvements, or heating fuel subsidies — which the Health Leads volunteers “fill”, by applying their problem solving skills to identify resources anywhere they may be available.

Health Leads was co-founded by a Harvard University student, Rebecca Onie, in 1996 and up until a year ago, she thought that the organisation’s biggest obstacle would be getting doctors to pay attention to patients’ social needs.  But the organisation now gets so many referrals from doctors that it has waiting lists.

According to the report, Health Leads offers a model of how to develop a workforce to systematically address the social causes of illness.

Looks like an interesting idea with potentially wider application?

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The real crisis in health

Senator Richard Di Natale writes:

Not many people give up a career in medicine to become a politician. However, I still have the same goal: the good health of Australians.

Australia’s health care system isn’t bad. We spend less on health care than many other countries, about 9% of GDP (less than half of that spent in the USA), but most of us get access to high quality care when we need it.

But we are also one of the most hospitalised nations in the world, with more overnight beds per capita than any other OECD country. And even with the relatively high rate of hospitalisation, 60 per cent of our population is overweight, half the teeth of Australians aged 35-44 have some decay and alcohol abuse is costing our economy billions each year and rising.

Australia isn’t having a health crisis. We’re having a preventative health crisis. Continue reading “Getting to the root causes of health problems: some local and international perspectives”

aged care

Jul 29, 2011

5 comments

In the previous post, the University of Queensland’s Professor Philip Davies asked whether we’d been having “cappuccino-style” health reform – an approach focused on the milky froth of health sector institutions while leaving the underlying, thick, rich espresso of health care delivery largely untouched.

Robert Wells, Director of the Australian Primary Health Care Research Institute and Menzies Centre for Health Policy at the Australian National University, responded to the post:

Professor Davies’ assessment of health reform two years on is a sad reflection on missed opportunities. Fortunately, the focus on the froth rather than the coffee probably means that we are not that much worse off for the experience and if Medicare Locals and Local Hospital Networks are given the right incentives and flexibility we might well be better off.

Unfortunately some of the major failures of the recent reform process are that it leaves in place the key weaknesses of our system: vested professional interests with undue influence; unresolved Commonwealth/state tensions; and increased rather than streamlined bureaucracy.

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Below are two pieces reviewing progress to date – by Dr Tim Woodruff, vice president of the Doctors Reform Society, and blogger Mark Bahnisch, as well as a link to a report on the challenges of reform implementation that is well worth reading.

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Important structural issues that contribute to inequity are yet to be addressed

Tim Woodruff writes:

Health reform was flagged as a major part of the election commitment of Federal Labor when it came to power in 2007. After input from a range of inquiries the Federal Government finally made some proposals, which faced substantial resistance particularly from state governments. Following a Council of Australian Government (COAG) meeting earlier this year, substantial agreement has been reached on what is proposed. It is now being implemented gradually.

There are two distinct parts to what the Federal Government has done and is doing.

Firstly there are funding commitments to various parts of the health system. Much of this should not really be regarded as reform as it is simply a recognition of the need for more funding.  Substantial increases in workforce have been funded but this is just recognition that there is a shortage. It is not reform. Continue reading “More reflections on health reform: so much more is needed”

chronic diseases

Jul 26, 2011

5 comments

Tomorrow marks the 2nd anniversary of the release of the National Health and Hospitals Reform Commission’s final report, A healthier future for all Australians.

For those whose memories have suffered under the subsequent onslaught of related documents, the report told us that there was a “compelling” case for reform, and that this should have three goals:

1. tackling major access and equity issues that affect health outcomes for people now;

2. redesigning our health system so that it is better positioned to respond to emerging challenges; and

3. creating an agile and self-improving health system for long-term sustainability.

Professor Philip Davies, professor of health systems and policy at the University of Queensland, weighs up what progress has been made with health reform.

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Has health reform been more than froth and bubble?

Philip Davies writes:

A former colleague once outlined to me the concept of ‘cappuccino-style’ health reform.  It was, he explained, an approach to reform which focused on the milky froth of health sector institutions while leaving the underlying, thick, rich espresso of health care delivery largely untouched.

Two years on from the launch of the National Health and Hospitals Reform Commission’s final report, by then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, it is timely to assess the extent to which Australia’s current health reform efforts exhibit cappuccino-like characteristics.

Continue reading “Is this “cappuccino-style” health reform? Marking an anniversary…”

Media-related issues

Jul 26, 2011

5 comments

Kerrie Noonan and Peta Murray, from The GroundSwell Project, write:

Recently we wrote about social media resources in palliative care and how The GroundSwell Project uses social media to share our projects, connect with collaborators and promote community engagement in end-of-life related topics.

In our experience, social media is a great tool. However our latest school project on organ donation has taught us it can’t replace real life experience.

Our drama project is in its second year, and, informed by a public health approach to death, dying, and bereavement (see Allan Kellehear’s book Compassionate cities), it epitomises GroundSwell’s belief that young people –  when given the opportunity – can and will contribute significantly to community conversations about big ‘life and death’ topics such as transplant and organ donation issues (last year the topic was Motor Neurone Disease).

These young people are, after all our future carers, healthcare providers and policy makers! Why wait until children are ‘older’ to talk about death when it’s part of our everyday lives?

So for two months, GroundSwell facilitated an arts-focused encounter between Nic Bonfield’s Year 11 class of 19 students at Penrith High School and another eight people who have faced organ donation in the most intimate ways possible, as donor recipients, donor families, and health professionals.

Continue reading “A creative approach to engaging young people in discussions about organ donation”

consumer health information

Jul 26, 2011

5 comments

Professor Rachelle Buchbinder, a rheumatologist and clinical epidemiologist, writes:

In recent years, hundreds of Australians have undergone a controversial procedure for spinal fractures associated with osteoporosis.

The procedure, called vertebroplasty, involves placing a needle into the vertebra and injecting it with bone cement, to ‘fix’ the fracture, possibly by stopping the fragments of bone from moving and causing pain.

In 2009, I was co-author of one of two placebo-controlled trials, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, which reported that vertebroplasty was ineffective for osteoporotic spinal fractures (see here and here).

These findings were met with disbelief among those who perform the procedure, and some proponents suggested that vertebroplasty might still be useful for people with certain characteristics like more severe pain or more recent onset of symptoms.

To test this theory, the authors of the two trials combined the raw data for each person enrolled in their respective studies and then reanalysed the data as if patients were in a single large study (an ‘individual patient data meta-analysis’). Continue reading “Should the public purse fund a procedure that “the best available evidence does not support”?”

climate change

Jul 25, 2011

5 comments

Malcolm Turnbull drew upon several health and medical analogies in his recent, widely-reported speech on climate change, in which he urged respect for science, and called for action to prevent the “enormous injustice” facing the world’s poorest people.

“… the people in the world who will suffer the most cruelly will be the poorest and the people who have contributed the least to the problem,” he said.

Turnbull’s health references included:

• Ignoring the science of climate change is like “ignoring the advice of your doctor to give up smoking and lose 10 kilos on the basis that somebody down the pub told you their uncle Ernie ate three pies a day and smoked a packet of cigarettes and lived to 95.  Now that is how stupid it is and we have to get real about supporting and responsibly accepting the science.”

• “Would you allow yourself, your own body to be operated on by some medical theory that you picked up on the website or would you seek to get the most highly respected specialist in the field to operate on you?  We all know what the answer is.  That’s what we do with our own bodies.  What we’re talking about now is the future and the health of the planet.”

• “Some people would say, I trust that most would not, that as we have a vested interest in coal being burned, we should oppose action on climate change and, rather like the tobacco companies who sought to discredit the connection between smoking and lung cancer, muddy the waters on climate science in order to prolong the export billions from coal mining.”

Meanwhile, a health focus on climate change will also be on the agenda of a weekend workshop in Melbourne this weekend, that is being put on by the Green Institute.

Melanie Lowe, one of a number of health professionals on the program, writes below about some shared ground between obesity and climate change.

•••

What do climate change and obesity have in common?

Melanie Lowe writes:

Obesity and climate change are two of the greatest public health challenges facing Australia.

Over 60 percent of adults and 25 percent of children are overweight or obese, with high body mass being a major risk factor for conditions such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and some cancers.

At the same time, the health effects of climate change are predicted to be extensive. These include increased illness and mortality from severe heat waves and other extreme weather events, an increase in allergenic pollens and the range and seasonality of mosquito-born infections such as dengue fever, fresh water and food shortages and increased rates of food and water-borne disease.

Whilst obesity and climate change may appear to be unrelated, there is a growing recognition that these are actually closely connected problems, having some shared causes and solutions.

There are three shared determinants of obesity and climate change. Continue reading “Action on climate change may also help our obesity problem”

infectious diseases

Jul 25, 2011

5 comments

During the swine flu pandemic, journalists in the US became concerned about inconsistencies in how jurisdictions handled the release of information about H1N1 cases and deaths.

According to the Association of Health Care Journalists (AHCJ), the disparate approaches – with some jurisdictions releasing specific information about the age, gender and residence of victims and others releasing little or no personal information – became the subject of news reports, distracting from health messages and inadvertently undermining public trust.

These concerns led to a meeting last year between health journalists and public health information officers, which led to the release last week of voluntary guidelines for journalists and public health officials deciding what information to release/report about deaths, epidemics, emerging diseases or illnesses.

The overarching principle for public health officials is to be open and to strive to release as much information as possible, to withhold information only when there is a clearly justified reason to keep it confidential, and to explain the rationale for any decision to withhold information. The guidelines also note the need to balance legal and ethical considerations around privacy.

They state:

Nothing deepens anxiety and erodes trust more than the perception that government officials are hiding information from the public. Responses can range from unnecessary anxiety to denial, instead of informed, appropriate actions. In a public health crisis, officials need to balance the requirement to protect the confidentiality of individuals’ health information against the need to keep the public informed and engaged. In media parlance, the “cover-up” can become a bigger story than the actual event.

Thus, it is important for public health officials to provide as much information as possible or allowed, and for journalists to provide context for information provided. When information is withheld, it is important for public health officials to explain why and for the media to also report why, to avoid creating unwarranted distrust.

Continue reading “A legacy of swine flu: guidelines for public health officials & journalists dealing with epidemics”

evidence-based issues

Jul 25, 2011

5 comments

In Sydney tomorrow, Gary Banks, chairman of the Productivity Commission, is due to officially launch the Centre for Informing Policy in Health with Evidence from Research.

Professor Sally Redman, the chief investigator of the Centre, explains below what it aims to do.

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Building an evidence base for informed health policy

Professor Sally Redman writes:

Sir Humphrey: Now in Stage Two you go on to discredit the evidence … You say it leaves some important questions unanswered, that much of the evidence is inconclusive, that the figures are open to other interpretations, that certain findings are contradictory, and that some of the main conclusions have been questioned. …

Minister Hacker: But to make accusations of this sort — you’d have to go through it with a fine-tooth comb?

Sir Humphrey: No, no, no. You can say all these things without reading it.

I have to admit to having lifted the above gem, from the BBC’s classic Yes Minister series, from a recent speech by Productivity Commission chairman Gary Banks to a South Australian economics think tank on the topic of “Evidence and social policy” – in this case relating to gambling.

Gary Banks has argued consistently and passionately over many years for the use of evidence in policymaking, not only because it helps to achieve the best results for the Australian community, but also because it helps to get good policy implemented when there is opposition to it, as illustrated with great humour and insight above.

As part of his campaign to get more evidence into policy, Gary Banks will help us launch an exciting new initiative in the health care sector – a National Health and Medical Research Council funded Centre of Excellence in increasing the use of research in health policy.

Governments across the world have recognised that the use of evidence from research in health policy can improve health outcomes and optimise resource allocation.

But there is little empirical evidence about what does and doesn’t work to increase the use of evidence from research in policy. Continue reading “Evidence into policy: what works?”

health and medical education

Jul 21, 2011

5 comments

Don Perlgut, CEO Rural Health Education Foundation, writes:

I am pleased to report that a new Rural Health Education Foundation program about improving eye health among Australia’s Indigenous population will be broadcast live on 26th July as a ground-breaking simulcast through three different media.

A Clear View: Improving Indigenous Eye Health is a live, hour-long educational TV program for health and medical professionals that will air on both the Rural Health Education Foundation’s satellite television network and on National Indigenous Television (NITV) at 8pm (AEST) on Tuesday July 26th.  The program will also be presented interactively over the web, enabling live participation by viewers.

Despite the fact that Indigenous children are born with better eyesight than their non-Indigenous counterparts, they are six times more likely to be blind and three times more likely to have low vision by the time they reach adulthood.

The recent AIHW report Eye Health in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people (May 2011) found that the leading causes of vision loss include uncorrected refractive error, cataracts, trachoma and diabetic retinopathy. Up to 94% of this vision loss is preventable or treatable.

Research has concluded that much of the current state of poor eye health of Indigenous people is due to inappropriate or inadequate health service delivery.  Cataracts are the most common cause of bilateral blindness, and only two thirds of Indigenous people with cataracts receive surgery. Continue reading “A landmark event for improving Indigenous eye health”

Hospitals

Jul 21, 2011

5 comments

In North America, hospitals seem to have been quicker than other parts of the health sector to realise the potential of social media. As a recent Canadian report investigating the potential of social media to contribute to better health care said: “Compared to other types of healthcare institutions, hospitals are overwhelmingly early adopters of social media.”

At the bottom of the post – in the Twitter conversation – you can see an example of how a children’s hospital in Canada is using social media to provide community education.

In Australia, however, my impression is that the opposite is true, and that the primary health care sector has been leading the way. It’s been interesting to watch Divisions of General Practice, community and social service groups, and the new Medicare Locals engaging with Twitter, and how it has been helping to build networks and sharing of information within the sector.

Public hospitals are such victims of centralised information-control and defensive risk-management approaches to media that they seem largely unable to embrace the opportunities of the new media age (although the bottom of the post shows that some are making tentative steps in this direction). Mind you, they are not the only institutions struggling.

I heard recently of a health organisation – whose core business should include advocacy and community engagement – asking senior staff to provide their tweets a month in advance (presumably so they can go through the approval process). Clearly this is an organisation that is yet to come to terms with effective use of Twitter.

By contrast, the private hospital industry is active in the social media space, as revealed in this recent post on the blog of the Mayo Clinic Centre for Social Media, by the Communications and Marketing Director for the Australian Private Hospitals Association, Lisa Ramshaw. She writes:

APHA actively promotes the value of private hospitals in Australia through our Facebook page, our Twitter account and through our rapid response social media monitoring. We also have a Valuing Private Hospitals webpage where patients, their family and friends and our hospitals’ staff can post comments on why they value private hospitals. We have recently launched a new campaign, ‘The Means Test Means‘ to assist us in fighting against the Australian Federal Government’s proposed legislation to means test the Private Health Insurance rebate.

However, Ramshaw adds that: “The use of social media in healthcare in Australia and especially in hospitals lags behind the US currently.”

But there have been some early adopters. Below, Dr John Ballard, formerly the long term Chief Executive Officer of Mercy Health, explains how he was converted to Twitter.

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Organisations should rethink assumptions about social media

John Ballard writes:

My initial approach to Twitter was both sceptical and tentative. Our media adviser, Peter Kent from Porter Novelli, had been steering me toward social media for a long time. I resisted. My resistance was not based on logic or experience, but a belief that it was simply noise to the void and a waste of time. Continue reading “Hospitals may be dragging the chain on social media but here’s how one senior exec became a convert”

Indigenous health

Jul 21, 2011

5 comments

Continuing a Croakey series on the digital revolution and health….

As mentioned in a recent post, the online revolution is creating new opportunities for telling the stories of those who haven’t always had a fair deal from the mass media.

The post prompted public health blogger Kishan Kariippanon to send details of this innovative project in the NT that is “giving Indigenous communities a chance to tell their stories in their own way”.

The NT Mobile Journalism project is funded by the Federal Government. The concept was developed by Ivo Burum of Burum Media Pty Ltd. Burum is also involved in a similar project for school students, MySchool Mojo.

Continue reading “Citizen journalism as an Indigenous health intervention?”

complementary medicines

Jul 20, 2011

5 comments

As previously reported, a review released today makes wide-ranging recommendations for improving the transparency and responsiveness of the Therapeutic Goods Administration.

Below is some reaction.

Dr Ken Harvey, Adjunct Senior Lecturer, School of Public Health at La Trobe University, was the CHOICE consumer representative for the review.

He writes:

During the consultations, and in some of the submissions made to the Review, stakeholders drew the Panel’s attention to a number of issues regarding the TGA or therapeutic goods that were not directly related to ‘transparency’.

When the Panel considered these issues, it determined that they were outside the scope of the Terms of Reference for the Review, and in some cases were policy matters for consideration by government.

However, the Panel agreed that these matters are important, and decided that each issue should be noted and/or drawn to the attention of either the TGA, or the most appropriate government agency. These are set out in Chapter 5 of the Review.

One key issue was the impact of the TGA’s current funding structure of 100% cost recovery from industry. Some consumers perceived that the funding structure limits the TGA’s capacity to provide public education and information. Continue reading “Some reaction to the transparency review of the TGA”

cancer

Jul 20, 2011

5 comments

This article – on the potential downsides of a public awareness campaign about ovarian cancer – reminds me of health media watchdog Gary Schwitzer’s comment that “all screening tests cause harm; some may do good.” Perhaps the same might be said of disease awareness campaigns.

Increasing public awareness about ovarian cancer can have a downside

Professor Marian Pitts writes:

On an almost daily basis we are bombarded with health messages, many of them encouraging us to monitor ourselves for worrying signs that might be signals of an underlying problem.

Ovarian cancer is the latest in a long line of such concerns. It is the sixth most common cause of cancer death in Australia; and it has a poor five-year survival rate of only 42%. Many cases of ovarian cancer are undiagnosed until an advanced stage of the disease.

Against this backdrop, a National Breast and Ovarian Cancer Centre survey has shown that one in five women can’t name one symptom of ovarian cancer.

This has formed the basis of a public health campaign to raise awareness of the cancer and its associated symptoms.

The trouble is that the symptoms that may signal an underlying cancer are vague, non-specific and, as our study has found, extremely common in the general population. Continue reading “A cautionary note about raising public awareness around ovarian cancer”

adverse events

Jul 20, 2011

5 comments

The Therapeutic Goods Administration faces something of a shake-up if there is effective implementation of the recommendations of a review, released today, that is aimed at improving the agency’s transparency.

The review was conducted over seven months and makes 21 recommendations (a summary of these is reproduced below), including that the TGA implement a more proactive communications strategy that should be based in-house (in contrast to the current arrangements).

The report says: “The Panel considers that the TGA should adopt a pro-active stance to the many issues relating to therapeutic goods that are of concern to the public that it serves. It should move away from the conservative approach that has characterised its actions in the past and recognise that it has a duty to collaborate with stakeholders to create a culture in which the community has confidence in the therapeutic goods the TGA regulates.”

The Panel notes that there is an international trend towards greater openness in governmental decision making and that comparable overseas bodies were moving in this direction: “Australia cannot afford to be left behind in this worldwide approach to the regulation of therapeutic goods.”

The Panel said their consultations had shown that the TGA and its work cannot be considered well known by the Australian community: “The role of the FDA, the United States regulator, seems better known in Australia, and its information is as likely to be relied upon as that from the TGA.”

The report includes a suggestion that appropriately qualified public servants should be allowed (shock, horror!) to deal directly with the media.

It says: “The Panel also noted that the overseas regulators equivalent to the TGA are recognising that the public’s need for accurate information is best met by permitting professionals with appropriate media training, to speak directly on public health issues and concerns.” Continue reading “TGA facing a shake-up (maybe), in the quest for greater transparency”

child health

Jul 19, 2011

5 comments

As mentioned in the previous post, some of those at the recent Primary Health Care Research Conference in Brisbane have written reports arising from a workshop about how primary health care might harness the digital revolution.

In the articles below:

  • Natasha Pavlin looks at some of the challenges for those in the health sector wanting to engage with social media (you can follow her on Twitter here).
  • Pippa Burns weighs the pros and cons of engaging with social media and decides she doesn’t want to be left behind.
  • Pam Harnden provides a comprehensive report on the workshop discussions.

At the bottom of the post are some tweets related to the session.

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Institutionalising social media: hard times for control freaks

Natasha Pavlin writes:

Do you ever wish that you could get other people in your organisation excited about using social media? Or do you worry that they will be excited, and you will have to be too, and it will be all too much? Continue reading “Some reflections on social media and primary health care”

health and medical research

Jul 19, 2011

5 comments

This post kicks off a short series of articles on social media and health.

The first posts focus on primary health care, and will be followed by a former hospital executive’s musings about his experiences with Twitter.

At the Primary Health Care Research Conference in Brisbane last week, I gave a workshop looking at how the sector might harness the digital revolution.

The post below summarises my presentation (much of which will be familiar to regular Croakey readers/Twitter followers).  As much as anything, it is to give workshop participants links to some of the resources mentioned.

The workshop participants were diligent – three of those attending have written articles for Croakey, which will follow on from this post.

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How can primary health care harness the digital revolution?

The presentation briefly looked at how it might help improve:

health and medical education

Jul 19, 2011

5 comments

We hear so often that health systems the world over should be investing more in population and public health.

If we want to prevent illness and suffering, if we want a fairer distribution of health, and if we want a better bang for our buck, then public health can help.

But what is the role of doctors in this brave new world?

Public health has not traditionally been seen as a particularly glamorous area, especially for medical students who so often end up being drawn to the super specialty end of clinical medicine.

So what are medical schools doing to ensure graduates are well-equipped in public health? And what skills do they need?

Associate Professor Mavis Duncanson, head of the Population and Public Health Domain at Notre Dame University’s Sydney medical school, is keen to hear what other medical schools are doing in this area.

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What are Australian and NZ medical schools doing in public health?

Mavis Duncanson writes:

We are reviewing how we teach medical students about population and public health (PPH), and would like to hear from other medical schools in Australia and New Zealand about their approaches. Continue reading “Do medical students know enough about public health?”

consumer health information

Jul 15, 2011

5 comments

In the US, two leading health researchers, Steven Woloshin and Lisa Schwartz, recently called for fact boxes to be included with medications and pharmaceutical ads to provide a standardised, easy-to-read format that would help people weigh up potential benefits and harms (see an example at the bottom of this post).

They wrote in The New York Times:

After 33 years of deliberation, last month the Food and Drug Administration announced rules requiring manufacturers to clarify how well sunscreens protect against UVB and UVA radiation — in other words, how well they actually work. Next, the agency could help consumers understand something far more important: how well a prescription drug actually works.

Meanwhile, Australian researchers, as mentioned in a recent Croakey report on the Australasian Cochrane symposium, have been working to improve the quality of patient information leaflets. Below they provide more details about a framework they’ve developed for evaluating such leaflets.

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A framework for improving information for patients

Rosemary Clerehan and Rachelle Buchbinder write:

There is a wealth of written information that the general public and patients can access about medical conditions and their prevention and treatment.

For example, doctors often provide patients with written information leaflets about the medications that are prescribed. These are often of variable quality and content and may or may not address the needs of the patient. Continue reading “Some ideas for improving the quality of health and medicinal information”