Metro North Health Forum: Talking 'bout a revolution, or evolution

Brisbane's premier healthcare event challenges conventional thinking.

Boasting an impressive line-up of presenters and arguably its most diverse program to date, the annual Metro North Health Forum was the place to be for the latest ideas in healthcare reform.

‘Evolution Or Revolution: A Journey to Better Health’ was this year’s Forum theme, a concept eagerly embraced by the leading academics and program managers who contributed their learnings.

In welcoming to the Forum the more than 340 attendees, Brisbane North PHN Chief Executive Abbe Anderson encouraged everyone to make the most of the day. 

“Do ask questions, get involved in the presentations, make comments, show what you’re doing, meet people, and talk about and find out more about what’s happening here in healthcare in Metro North Brisbane,” Ms Anderson said.  

The PHN jointly hosts the Metro North Health Forum with the Metro North Hospital and Health Service (HHS) and, now in its fourth year, Ms Anderson reflected on some of the changes that had occurred over that time.

She paid tribute to the PHN’s former Deputy CEO Jeff Cheverton who passed away recently and announced a Memorial Scholarship for Health Policy Research in his honour.

Supported by the PHN and the Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association, this annual scholarship will support a postgraduate student or early career researcher to develop a short publication on a topic related to mental health, primary health, aged care, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health or LGBTQI health.

Metro North HHS Chief Executive Ken Whelan said he wondered whether the Forum theme should have been ‘people power’ because, within a health context, the priority should be on the patient and the relationships between healthcare personnel and those patients.

Mr Whelan said this approach would lead to a better healthcare system and was the philosophy behind the joint HHS and PHN Health Alliance.

According to Mr Whelan, for the Alliance to be effective it needed to be neutral in accountability terms and begin with the following proposition:

“If we looked at one another’s data; if we were committed to working with all our partners, NGOs, communities; and if down the track we had access to one bucket of money; would we commission services in a different way to how they’re provided today?” Mr Whelan said.

“And the answer is: You’re damn right we would,” he said, adding that care would be provided consistently across the continuum

Rounding out the opening plenary session was Professor Don Matheson, who heads the Alliance and describes himself as the General Manager of an idea.

Professor Matheson said the concept of the Alliance’s neutrality elicited parallels with Switzerland.

“It means all parts of the sector should come together as equals. That’s a big call from a hospital…to a health sector,” Professor Matheson said.

“That’s a very big call and very inspiring call, that we should build a shared understanding of both problems and solutions,” he said.

Complementing this narrative, Director of the Centre of Health Innovation Professor Martin Connor presented the first keynote address on the topic of integrated care.

Professor Connor said there currently existed an opportunity for integrated care in Australia to implement reform “ahead of the curve”.

“It looks like globally we’re heading into an era of greater uncertainty [so] I think we’ve got a real serious responsibility to say: What do we need to change in the wiring of our systems to make ourselves more resilient?” Professor Connor said.

He spoke about his work in transforming population risk management by connecting GP and HHS data on the Gold Coast.

“If you can’t name a risk, you can’t measure it. And if you can’t measure it, you don’t know whether or not your interventions are effective,” he said.

In discussing the Gold Coast risk management project, Professor Connor said they now had a GP network of 15 practices, which upload their entire clinical system once a day to a server.

On accessing the server, his team is able to chart the data and calculate patient risk according to chronic disease markers.

“And then for a subset of those patients, it moves it across to the hospital and matches that data with the hospital utilisation data for that patient,” Professor Connor said.

“And now we’re beginning to get a sense of a new system that will enable us to look at population risk,” he said.

The remainder of the Forum, hosted at the Royal International Convention Centre, comprised of concurrent sessions separated into three main streams, which were:

  • Maximising the last 1000 days – older people’s care
  • Care without borders
  • Recovery – mental health, alcohol and other drugs

The final plenary session was a presentation on the medicalisation of cannabis. Professor Iain McGregor provided an engaging and insightful perspective on what remains a controversial area of emerging medicine.

Image one caption: Brisbane North PHN CEO Abbe Anderson presenting at the Metro North Health Forum

Image two caption: Metro North Health Forum in session

Image three caption: Professor Martin Connor chatting to forum attendees 

Image four caption: Professor Iain McGregor and Executive Director Performance, Innovation and Implementation at Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital Luke Worth