Positive outcomes following health study

By David Rak

More Seymour residents are visiting their local GP and smoking rates have declined in the past 15 years, according to the latest Crossroads study.

Led by the University of Melbourne’s Department of Rural Health, Crossroads is one of the most detailed health projects undertaken in rural Australia, designed to understand the prevalence of chronic health conditions and healthcare use in the Goulburn Valley.

About 500 households were randomly selected in Seymour to take part in the study.

Of these, almost 300 households participated, with 431 adults completing a detailed health questionnaire.

Since the original study in Seymour was conducted in 2001-03, the use of services has increased, with 94 per cent of participants surveyed in 2016-18 visiting a GP in the past year.

A high level of confidence in GPs was also found, with 77 per cent of participants reporting their GP was “excellent” or “very good”.

There has been an increase in most regular health screenings such as blood pressure, cholesterol, prostate, diabetes and skin checks.

Rates of smoking have declined to 22 per cent but remain higher than the state average of 14 per cent.

University of Melbourne rural health expert Professor Lisa Bourke said the aim of the project was to see health services not only improved, but better tailored to what the local community needs and wants.

“By understanding more about community needs and the barriers to care, we can help local providers identify gaps, make strategic decisions for their health services and build cases for funding,” Prof Bourke said.

Although there have been positive gains since the original study, rates of chronic and long-term conditions have increased.

The number of participants in the overweight or obese range was higher than the state average and had increased since 2001-03.

Mental health was also identified as a key issue, with 29 per cent of participants reporting they had experienced depression.

Researchers identified three focus areas for improvement including increased access to mental health services, a whole-of-community approach to healthy lifestyles and equitable access to health care for people who are marginalised due to low income, disability or cultural barriers.

University of Melbourne Department of Rural Health research fellow Dr Kristen Glenister said tailored solutions were required to address these issues.

“There are exciting opportunities to build upon the strong community connections and high levels of satisfaction with local health service providers,” Dr Glenister said.

“This includes boosting GP numbers, expanding current strategies to promote healthy living and increasing access, inclusion and participation for all residents.”

Seymour Health chief executive Chris McDonnell said the health service was committed to using these latest findings to improve its responses to chronic health conditions.

“Seymour Health has actively taken information from the Crossroads study in planning a healthy Seymour. We are responding to issues around chronic health conditions, with a strong focus on developing locally based mental health services,” Mr McDonnell said.

“The research team extend thanks to all participants who made the study possible – giving up their time and sharing vital information to improve local health services and drive evidence-based decision making.”