Collaborating for better public health

The recognition that faculties working and researching together have greater public healthcare impacts is gaining momentum.

New technologies are making it easier for healthcare consultations to be recorded, but what are the benefits and potential issues for patients and practitioners?

What are the implications for children and young people if their parents refuse to give consent for vaccination? How can that affect a young person’s health and their right to participate in education, sport and other activities they want to be part of?

The impact of medico-legal processes on the health of doctors is also a sensitive issue that is being highlighted by the University of Melbourne’s new Collaborative for Better Health and Regulation.

Working together for better regulation

Created during the COVID-19 lockdowns, the Collaborative for Better Health and Regulation launched on 1 June 2022 and unites expertise from Melbourne Medical School, Melbourne School of Population and Global Health, and Melbourne Law School. The Collaborative’s aim is to explore how better regulation can support public health and healthcare.

“Law is often seen as an obstacle to progress – we want to encourage an appreciation of how governance and law can be enabling and improve health and healthcare,” says Mark Taylor, Professor in Health Law and Regulation at Melbourne Law School.

“Many health professionals and members of the public perceive law as being about red tape, bureaucracy and preventing people from doing things. But many of the greatest public health achievements are facilitated through regulation like safe drinking water, wearing seatbelts and road safety,” adds Marie Bismark (MP 2019), Professor of Public Health Law at the Melbourne School of Population and Global Health.

Highlighting critical and emerging issues

The Collaborative officially launched with a panel discussion exploring the legal, ethical and professional issues raised by healthcare consultation audio recordings. While a useful way for patients and clinicians to collect and recall health information, recorded consultations raise legal questions around consent and sharing recordings and experts believe clear policies are needed to ensure appropriate and consistent practice.

Quarterly flagship panel events since then have continued to raise critical and emerging issues at the nexus of law and regulation, public health and healthcare.

One event examined the impacts of medico-legal processes on the wellbeing and recovery of doctors with health conditions. The experts included a patient, a doctor who faced personal health challenges, and the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (Ahpra). The panel explored possible regulatory and health system solutions to help doctors and protect patients.

“We’re interested in how we can optimise the balance between keeping the public safe from doctors who may not be able to practise safely because of an illness, and making sure the focus of regulators is on supporting those doctors to recover and return to safe practice,” says Professor Bismark.

The value of many perspectives 

“Courage and trust are important values behind the Collaborative. We want to have the courage to have difficult conversations – we want to create an environment where people with different perspectives and experiences can have constructive conversations on difficult issues,” Professor Bismark adds.

Megan Munsie, Professor Emerging Technologies (Stem Cells) at Melbourne Medical School, says an impetus behind the Collaborative for Better Health and Regulation was to create a space for issues, to create opportunities for conversations and to build a shared language.

“There’s a lot of learning to be shared about how people have success in addressing an issue and how that can be applied to another problem in a different setting and context. The forums are building a community of people interested in regulation and its challenges and opportunities,” says Professor Munsie.

A multi-disciplinary way forward

The forums are also an opportunity to showcase relevant academic research and for experts working within policy and government, health and law and current students to network.

Professors Taylor, Bismark and Munsie believe there is increasing recognition of the need for a multi-disciplinary response to tackle complex public health and healthcare problems.

“Some of the biggest problems we face cannot be solved by one profession alone – the world’s wicked problems need the best brains coming together, rather than professions being siloed with their own language and professional networks,” says Professor Bismark.

“Big issues won’t be resolved with one panel discussion, but they build traction and recognition of those issues and they focus thoughts on how to influence change,” agrees Professor Munsie.

“Collectively we make a more powerful contribution to the public conversation and I think there is scope for the Collaborative to extend to other schools within the University community,” says Professor Taylor.

“We can’t hope to deliver world-changing consequences every time we meet but, over time, we hope to make a significant and sustained contribution and to see regulation enable improvement in healthcare.”

For more information, visit the Collaborative’s website.