New Western Queensland Health Initiative wins National Award - "But the hard work is ahead"

An area the size of the state of Victoria in far Western Queensland is the target of a new primary healthcare initiative that’s already caught the eye of a global movement focussed on the wellness of individuals and “value-based” care.

The Healthy Outback Communities (HOC) initiative is a new, collaborative model of health and social care that aims to improve health access, equity, and outcomes in the very remote Western Queensland shires of Boulia, Diamantina and Barcoo.

This isolated region spans almost 220,000 square kilometres and does not have health services that adequately meet the essential needs of residents, with life expectancy in the region at least 5 years lower than the national average.

“We have to bring the focus back to the individual health needs of remote residents,” Western Queensland Primary Health Network CEO Sandy Gillies.

“HOC moves the focus from illness to wellness by providing better and earlier access to health services which helps clinicians have a better understanding of a patient’s health status and the level of care that is right for them.”

“We are under no illusions that this is a mammoth challenge, but we are determined to improve health outcomes for Western Queenslanders who have endured inadequate services for too long,” Ms Gillies said.

The WQPHN’s HOC initiative places health and wellbeing in the hands of communities and links residents to local support.

It’s already attracted national attention, winning the Health Care Equity Award at this year’s Value Based Health Care Awards.

Under “value-based care”, health services are measured on outcomes, rather than a focus on the volume or number of health services delivered. 

“The key to the success of the HOC initiative will be that it’s community-driven, where locals not only have a say in how their services are delivered but can also provide workforce support for health services,” Ms Gillies said.

“Without a local GP or pharmacist in their towns, communities traditionally rely on visiting clinicians who might not have a full understanding of a patient’s individual health circumstances.”

“In contrast, the HOC initiative will provide access to a more holistic patient picture through new resources like wellbeing plans, leading to better planning and delivery of services to remote communities.”

“We have to look at a community member’s health journey beyond the visit to the GP or hospital, and connect patients with local health services, local community activities like exercise clubs or social events, which will help support their physical and mental health.”

Royal Flying Doctors Qld Section CEO Meredith Staib has endorsed the initiative as a critical move toward improving the health of rural and remote communities.

“The RFDS has for almost a century been in the primary health care space and the opportunity to join with the WQPHN on this initiative is critical to the work we do in that region already,” Ms Staib said.

“We anticipate our role will be expanding our existing technological capabilities in the region in areas like remote medicine using our reach through telehealth.” 

Visiting international health expert Dr Sally Lewis, who has joined the HOC project as an advisor, says a healthy community on its own will deliver 80% of health gains, while formal health care intervention delivers just 20%. 

“The HOC initiative gives government and other funders a potential new blueprint on how to improve health services, not just in remote settings but around the country and internationally too,” Dr Lewis said.

“If this project is given strong support to fly, then it could really make a marked change in health outcomes for people across this vast region which, coming from Wales in the UK, is still unimaginable to me in terms of the isolation and distance.” 

L to R - Aidan Hobbs, Senior Manager WQPHN - The Hon Jillian Skinner, Chairperson AHHA - Sandy Gillies, CEO WQPHN - Jason Warnock, WQPHN Board Member - Kylie Woolcock, CEO AHHA 

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