Researchers honoured for work that delivers real-world results

The Sax Institute has honoured four NSW researchers whose work has changed the way healthcare is designed and delivered, in its inaugural Research Action Awardsannounced on 15 September.


(L-R): Associate Professor Farah Magrabi,
Dr Santosh Khanal, Dr Anne Cust, Associate Professor Julie Leask.

The winning researchers’ work has impacted on areas as diverse as being pivotal in having commercial sunbeds banned to changing the way health workers communicate about vaccination with hesitant parents.

The Institute established the annual awards to recognise research that supports policy decisions that make a real-world difference to people’s health and wellbeing.

“The winning applications are outstanding examples of research that is making a critical contribution to health and health systems,” said Sax Institute CEO Professor Sally Redman.

“Our award winners have not only undertaken research about issues of immediate relevance to those who make health decisions, they have also found elegant ways to have their findings acted upon.”

A panel of national and international experts chose the four successful applicants. They are:

Dr Anne Cust, University of Sydney, led the first Australian population-based study to establish a link between sunbed use and melanoma, and showed that young people were particularly sensitive to the effects of sunbed UV radiation. She also produced modelling estimates for the Cancer Institute NSW that showed banning sunbeds would reduce the number of melanoma cases in NSW alone by 120 per year.

The research was pivotal to the NSW Government introducing a total ban on commercial sunbeds in late 2014. Bans have now been rolled out in other Australian states and overseas.

Associate Professor Julie Leask, University of Sydney, has been researching the area of vaccine refusal and acceptance for nearly two decades, and has found that strategies to improve vaccination rates should target fence-sitting parents rather than those whose opposition to vaccines is entrenched.

Her work has led to an international collaboration to develop a Vaccine Communication Framework, for use by healthcare around the globe, and is being further developed and evaluated by the Federal Government and National Centre for Research and Surveillance in a three-year project called SARAH – Strategies and Resources to Assist Hesitant parents with vaccination.

Associate Professor Farah Magrabi, Macquarie University, has sought to shed more light on the poorly understood area of patient safety risks posed by e-health systems. From her world-first analysis of IT safety incidents, she developed a new classification system for e-health risks which has become the de facto international standard for analysing IT safety incidents. Her work is shaping policy to govern e-health safety in the US, and she has developed a new IT incident monitoring system that has been tested in general practices across Australia.

Dr Santosh Khanal, NSW Ministry of Health, took an evidence-based approach to the policy question faced by the Ministry’s Office of Prevention: how to remove barriers to families attending the State Government obesity treatment program Go4Fun.  He led a randomised controlled trial to determine the impact of restructuring the 10-week program, finding that it could be delivered weekly rather than twice a week without compromising health outcomes or attendance. The change not only means the program is now more accessible to families, but has resulted in substantial cost efficiencies that allowed savings to be diverted to other health programs.

The awards were presented at a cocktail reception attended by senior health leaders and members of the public health and health services research community on 15 September. Professor Nicholas Mays, Editor of the Journal of Health Services Research & Policy, NSW Chief Scientist and Engineer Professor Mary Foley and Secretary of NSW Health Dr Mary Foley were special guests at the event.

VIDEO: See the award winners talk about their research.