One of the largest population health studies ever conducted in rural Australia has already had benefits for local residents of the town of Port Lincoln.
University of Adelaide researchers conducted the Linkin Health Census of more than 8000 Port Lincoln residents in 2010. The census was aimed at better understanding the health needs of the local people, how they use services, and how those services can be delivered in a way that improves patient outcomes.
The results of that study highlighted an issue with bone and joint problems.
"We found that more than 40% of the population, across all ages, were experiencing bone and joint problems," says one of the lead investigators of the study, Professor Jonathan Newbury from the University's School of Population Health, who is based in Port Lincoln.
"Typical problems included osteoarthritis and lower back pain. Many people had not sought treatment, or understood how to properly self-manage these conditions, such as through exercise and weight loss.
"Without the health census we would not have known the extent of the problem," Professor Newbury says.
The researchers' initial work led to a series of phone interviews with 1500 residents. The results of these interviews then helped the research team to design a health system-based project to address the issues at a local level.
After follow up with those in the greatest need, 80 people were referred to a GP, and attended special exercise and physiotherapy sessions to help overcome or alleviate their bone and joint conditions.
"With the bone and joint project, this was a very clear example of how we uncovered unmet health needs and responded directly to them," Professor Newbury says.
"People who suffer bone and joint problems are also highly likely to be experiencing one or more other major health conditions. So by raising awareness of these issues and referring people to their GP, we were also able to improve the diagnosis of other problems," he says.
"It's gratifying now to hear of people who have reduced their weight and their use of medications to control bone and joint pain."
The population health study in Port Lincoln has now come to an end, but Professor Newbury says: "Our findings can be used to guide health policies for bone and joint health in the future, with many residents of the Port Lincoln area standing to benefit from this for years to come."
This study has been supported with a $2.1 million project grant from the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC).
Professor Jonathan Newbury
Professor of Rural Health
School of Population Health
The University of Adelaide
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The University of Adelaide
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