Garry Jennings on translating research into practice

By March 31, 2017Research
Garry Jennings Translating Research Practice

Professor Garry Jennings AO was appointed Executive Director of Sydney Health Partners this year, bringing to the team his robust expertise as a health and medical researcher, clinician and executive leader. Previously, Garry had served as the Director of Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute in Melbourne for 14 years and most recently as the interim CEO of the National Heart Foundation. He also has extensive experience as a leading cardiologist, including a lengthy career in clinical practice as the Director of Cardiology at The Alfred Hospital.

One of the first four Advanced Health Research and Translation Centres in Australia, Sydney Health Partners aims to translate research into better health outcomes for the community.

A melting pot of world leading researchers and clinicians, the consortium currently serves a catchment population of 2.7 million. It is composed of three major local health districts in the area – Sydney, Northern Sydney and Western Sydney – as well as the Sydney Children’s Hospital, the University of Sydney and nine affiliated independent medical research institutes.

Ccentric sat down with Garry recently to discuss his strategic priorities for the consortium, as well as the importance of fuelling the translation of research into practice.

What are your goals and strategic priorities for the Sydney Health Partners?

The higher-level goal is to improve the health of the population we serve through research innovation. There are fundamentally two stages of innovation in this aspect – the discovery phase, followed by implementation.

It is important that we do not simply stop at the point of discovery, but take any key findings and treatments into clinical practice, not only within the Sydney region, but across the wider Australian health system. In order to achieve this, we must strive for generalisable learning in research – a craft that requires a great deal of technical expertise and training.

Why is it so important to go beyond discovery?

There is no question that embedding research into the health system does result in better and more affordable care. This will be especially vital as the Australian population continues to age alongside the rest of the world – a phenomenon that will naturally lead to a rise in new medical conditions related to age, in turn creating a knock-on effect on the cost of health services.

By accelerating the implementation of research discoveries into practice, healthcare providers will be more informed of the latest developments in medicine, enabling the community with access to the best possible care.

 How is Australia tracking in terms of translating research into practice?

Australia has one of the longest life expectancies in the world, coupled with an excellent health system delivering some very good outcomes. In that sense, you may say things are looking good.

However, we’ve got some big issues ahead of us including, as I mentioned, an ageing population that will only give rise to more complex diseases associated with age; as well as disadvantaged groups like aboriginal people and refugees missing out on advanced care because of a loophole in research translation.

While Australia is tracking well, there is still a need to bring all parties involved in shaping the healthcare sector up to the same standards and page, to be better prepared for the future.

 How can we accelerate the implementation of research discoveries then?

One key element lies in making the health system more research-friendly. What this essentially means is we need to ensure there are more than sufficient opportunities for people entering the research field and importantly, that they have the capacity to follow through with their work.

Fostering greater collaboration between government, academia, universities and healthcare services is vital here, as working together will provide all the different ingredients necessary for a powerful boost in health innovation.

Ultimately, the pace of science is moving at incredible speeds, with new discoveries and developments emerging faster than ever before. What our clinicians are doing today may not be relevant in five or 10 years; and what is currently being taught in universities may no longer be enough to treat tomorrow’s diseases.

As such, there needs to be a concerted effort to not only train the next generation of healthcare professionals in the here and now, but also inculcate the ability to understand and exercise the craft of ongoing research and development. If we are able to create this fundamental shift in our undergraduate and postgraduate curriculum, it will certainly go a long way in facilitating a much more robust and flexible health system for Australia and future generations.