Nursing Australians back to health

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This week marks a landmark moment in Australia’s healthcare system when a key item in the Government’s health reform plans is fully realised.  In a major change that will affect nurses – but also GPs, patients and the pharmaceutical industry – nurse practitioners and midwives will now have the power to access specific Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) items and prescribe certain medicines subsidised on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS).

The change in legislation recognises the highly-skilled and capable Australian nursing and midwifery workforce, providing a new framework to enhance and expand their role in providing quality healthcare.

Nurse prescribing is common practice overseas. The UK has seen a significant shift in the last two decades in nurse prescribing – which started in the 1990s when community based nurses were able to prescribe independently from a limited formulary. Since May 2006 independent nurse prescribers have been given the ability to “prescribe any licensed medicine for any medical condition within their competence.”

With this local shift in prescribing power now happening in Australia’s healthcare system, divisions in opinion and the murmur of a ‘turf war’ were always going to be inevitable. Great effort has been made to ensure the change in legislation preserved the requirement for nurse practitioners and midwives to work in collaboration with medical practitioners to access the MBS and PBS – essentially ensuring GPs are ‘kept in the loop’.  The AMA has gone to considerable lengths to help GPs prepare for the changes asking them to ‘embrace the changes’ or risk the possibility of jeopardising the mandated collaborative arrangements.

Importantly everyday Aussies are reportedly supportive of the Government’s move. Research just released by the Australian Primary Health Care Research Institute (APHCRI) has shown Australians know the difference between being sick and needing a doctor and those “everyday health concerns” when a nurse practitioner would suffice.

Responses to the ongoing APHCRI survey has stated nurses are “good listeners” and could cater for “everyday health concerns, such as repeat prescriptions and minor illnesses, to free up GPs to manage more complex conditions.”  Shorter waiting times and better access to primary care has been identified as important advantages.

There is no doubt this represents a major milestone in Australia’s healthcare system. Ensuring this significant move enhances the delivery of best possible healthcare to Australians will be critical.  Time will tell whether or not we can indeed reach the levels of contribution nurse practitioners are making in the UK.

Big changes for Aussie nurses...

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What makes a ‘healthy’ health awareness campaign?

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Following the combined efforts of six different cancer organisations (Bowel Cancer Australia, the Gut Foundation, the GI Cancer Institute, the Bowel Cancer Foundation, the National Bowel Cancer Coalition and the Cancer Council Australia) last week in raising awareness of Australia’s second largest cancer killer, bowel cancer, it prompted us to ask: what makes a ‘healthy’ health awareness campaign?

Poignant call to action

Poignant call to action

If we take a look at Bowel Cancer Awareness Week as the most recent example, the issue dominated health news headlines all week, generating some 200 media impressions each day.

While there were varying messages from all of the organisations vying for a voice, the most common and resounding messages were: this is a cancer beginning to hit younger people (emotional), screening is critical (call-to-action) and society needs to put ‘social awkwardness’ aside when it comes to talking about bowel cancer (quirkiness).

Some organisations harnessed the power of celebrity to get their message across including Lara Bingle, George Calombaris and John Singleton, while others embraced research, personal stories and a touch of humour to spread the word.

With over 160 local, national and international health awareness days, weeks and months formally recognised by the Australian Department of Health & Ageing each year, why is it that some stand out from the crowd and demand such public and media attention, like Bowel Cancer Awareness Week, while others remain almost unheard of?

We know that not all health awareness campaigns are created equal and when embarking on a health awareness campaign, whether it’s an NGO, charity or pharmaceutical company, there needs to be a number of critical ingredients in place for a level of noise to be achieved. A host of important decisions must be made and depending on the topic/issue in question, one may find they have to work that little bit harder than their counterparts to pique the interest of media and ultimately get their target audience to act.

Working in the area of health and having played a part in many a health awareness campaign over the years, we’ve put together our top tips (with a couple of examples showing these in action) for what can help make a ‘healthy’ health awareness campaign:

1. Compelling, new research & statistics

2. Clear call-to-action that can be measured

3. Celebrity/high profile personality including MPs

4. Appeals to wider community – not just those that are affected

5. Real life stories

6. Specialists, key opinion leaders, clinical spokespeople

7. Original, creative or quirky take on getting the message across

8. Finding a journalist/media outlet with a personal connection

9. Ways to extend the campaign beyond the ‘day’, ‘week’ or ‘month’

10. Strong online presence

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Cracking the Code: A communications insight into Edition 16

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2010 marks 50 years since Medicines Australia first introduced the Code of Conduct. In five decades the Code has evolved dramatically. From a small booklet in the 1960s that could practically fit in a back pocket and scrutinised use of telegrams as a communications channel – to Edition 16 now two A4 manuscripts holding almost 300 pages with Facebook, Twitter and YouTube under the microscope!

Edition 16 now provides the pharmaceutical industry with even tighter and more specific standards for the marketing and promotion of prescription products and engagement with healthcare professionals, patients and the general public.

When it comes to communicating with the general public what was once quite ‘grey’ and open to interpretation, has become far more lucid.

New Code now in play

New Code now in play

For the first time there is clarity on previously debated areas. When a company can issue a product-specific media release and what can and can’t be included is now qualified. How a company can respond to journalists requesting internationally released data on unregistered or ‘off-label’ products is also specified.

Edition 16 also features a sub-section on social media, recognising that while industry is still a little cautious with this new sphere of communication, it cannot be ignored.

At first glance Edition 16 may come across as more restrictive when it comes to industry’s relationship with the general public and media. And no doubt, it has prompted many a communications professional to consider how to convey a balanced, Code-compliant message that also piques the interest of one of its primary conduits of communication – the media.

However, on closer assessment, clarification of ‘grey’ areas and the setting of very clear parameters to work within can only be seen as a positive step. Greater alignment and consistency among each company’s approach to marketing and communications is important – and may assist in minimising the public scrutiny the industry has been forced to face in recent years.

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