PHRP Awards recognise outstanding public health research with real-world impact

A paper on the true cost of waiting times for cataract surgery in Australia and another on addressing the challenges health services must overcome to meet the needs of those seeking treatment for obesity have been honoured in this year’s PHRP Excellence Awards.

The awards celebrate outstanding papers that have been published in the past year in Public Health Research & Practice, a peer-reviewed journal of the Sax Institute that has been independently ranked Australia’s leading health policy journal.

This year’s Best Paper Award went to a team led by Dr Jessie Huang-Lung, a postdoctoral fellow at UNSW Sydney, for their paper on waiting times for cataract surgery in the public health system. The researchers found that in the best-case scenario, patients wait around four months for surgery after diagnosis of a cataract, but in the worst-case scenario, that wait can be as long as two-and-a-half years in some parts of the country.

Nearly one-quarter of a million people live in Australia with visually significant cataracts. The authors estimated that extended waits for treatment place people at heightened risk of falls, car crashes and other ill effects, including social isolation. Their analysis showed that cutting wait times from 12 to three months would result in 50,679 fewer falls for older people, saving the health system $6.6 million nationwide once the cost of bringing the surgery forward was taken into account.

“There will always be competing resources, but we need a dedicated pathway to get cataract surgery done because we know we know the procedure is both cost effective, and improves peoples’ quality of life significantly,” said the paper’s senior author, Professor Lisa Keay, who is Head of the School of Optometry and Vision Science at UNSW Sydney.

She added that the current state of affairs, with long delays before surgery in some parts of the country, “means people will have worse cataracts; their vision will be worse, and they will experience all the negative consequences”.

The paper generated significant interest in the mainstream and medical media, with articles on the research in The Australian and Sydney Morning Herald, among other outlets.

The Award for Best ‘In Practice’ Paper – which specifically recognises work authored by frontline practitioners – was won by a team led by Dr Michelle Gooey at Monash University for their paper on providing optimal care to people who seek treatment for obesity.

The researchers found a lack of services for the treatment of obesity at every level of the Australian healthcare system. They identified three key areas of challenge: the complexity of care required to manage obesity, lack of service capability and capacity, and the high out-of-pocket expenses incurred by patients.

To address these challenges, the authors outlined eight action areas as a starting point, including developing partnerships with people living with obesity; eliminating weight stigma; establishing clear referral pathways and ensuring flexible and accessible service delivery, among others.

“We’re seeing very high rates of obesity in Australia and long delays before people seek help, significantly increasing their risk of major health and psychosocial problems. The world has changed to make it easy to put on excess weight, and it shouldn’t just be up to the individual to change; we need to provide the right services and support for them,” said senior author Professor Louise Baur, who is Professor of Child and Adolescent Health at the University of Sydney.

 Professor Don Nutbeam, Editor-in-Chief, Public Health Research & Practice
Professor Don Nutbeam, Editor-in-Chief, Public Health Research & Practice

“We simply don’t have a system that provides optimal care for people seeking treatment – our paper outlines both the challenges as well as the actions we urgently need to take to address them.”

The paper was part of a wide-reaching special edition on ‘changing the obesity narrative’ published by the journal in October 2022, produced in partnership with the Health and Social Care Unit, School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine, Monash University, with support from VicHealth.

Congratulating the winners, PHRP Editor-in-Chief Professor Don Nutbeam said the papers, in their different methods, exemplify the power of research evidence in identifying ways that public health policy and practice can be improved.

“Our award winners, along with those who have been highly commended for their contribution to the journal, are providing insight to decision and policy makers who are in a position to ensure our health services are fit for purpose for the health and wellbeing of our citizens,” he said.

“I am grateful that we have such a dedicated community of researchers working in the public health arena, and I look forward to seeing how their work impacts our future public health landscape.”

The awards for Best Paper and Best ‘In Practice’ Paper celebrate excellence in public health research, practice and policy and recognise the inspirational work taking place in Australia. The judging panel, comprising members of the Journal’s Editorial Board, judges papers for factors including their potential impact on public health policy and practice, usefulness to policy makers, researchers and public health practitioners, rigour of methodology and quality of analysis and presentation.

Winning and highly commended papers

Best paper winner

The true cost of hidden waiting times for cataract surgery in Australia (12 October 2022)
Jessie Huang-Lung, Blake Angell, Anna Palagyi, Hugh R Taylor, Andrew White, Peter McCluskey, Lisa Keay

Read the paper here.

Best paper highly commended

Weight stigma in Australia: a public health call to action (12 October 22)
Blake J Lawrence, Xochitl de la Piedad Garcia, James Kite, Briony Hill, Kelly Cooper, Stuart W Flint, John B Dixon

Read the paper here.

A better understanding of the science and reality of obesity is urgently needed (12 October 2022)
Tiffany Petre, Adrian Bauman, Priya Sumithran, Gary Sacks, Tim Lobstein, Carel Le Roux, Clare Mullen, Brian Oldfield

Read the paper here.

Best In Practice paper winner

Health service approaches to providing care for people who seek treatment for obesity: identifying challenges and ways forward (12 October 2022)
Michelle Gooey, Catherine A Bacus, Divya Ramachandran, Milan K Piya, Louise A Baur

Read the paper here.

Best In Practice paper highly commended

Development of the Consumer Involvement & Engagement Toolkit: a digital resource to build capacity for undertaking patient-centred clinical trials in Australia (15 March 2023)
Tanya Symons, Janelle Bowden, Anne McKenzie, Julia M Fallon-Ferguson, Leanne Y Weekes, James Ansell, Rinki Murphy, Shilpa Jesudason, Manoj Saxena, Alistair Nichol, Nicola Straiton

Read the paper here.