Melbourne’s west welcomes Community Health Screening Program
Melbourne’s western suburbs have historically been perceived as suffering from relative socio-economic disadvantage when compared with the rest of the city.
A resurgence in industrial investment and employment generation have reversed many of the area’s previous disadvantages, and led to major advances in services for communities in the region.
Despite this regeneration, unemployment in areas of the west remains higher than the overall rate for Melbourne, with an unfortunate flow-on result in that many residents have little or no interaction with doctors. Indeed, while most full-time workers generally have access to health checks, unemployment can often lead to poor health outcomes.
The University of Melbourne and the Western Melbourne Regional Development Australia committee (WMRDA) have brought together several stakeholders to help address this problem, driving an innovative new project assisting local residents with basic health checks.
The Community Health Screening Program – a marvellous collaborative project involving students from the University of Melbourne’s Western Clinical School, WMRDA, PreventionXpress, the Institute for Breathing and Sleep, and Centrelink – has made a genuine difference to the health outcomes of the community.
The program, conducted over a two month period and involving over 1500 patients, revolved around a straightforward concept: conduct free, voluntary and confidential health screenings at five Centrelink sites located within the western region.
“It was implemented as part of a strategic plan to improve the economic, social and health outcomes for residents in Melbourne’s western communities,” says Bill Jaboor, Chair of WMRDA, a committee initiated by the Federal Government to provide strategic responses to the area’s challenges.
Third-year students from the University of Melbourne’s Western Clinical School played a pivotal role, volunteering their time to assist with the screening process. The students conducted 10-minute screenings of Centrelink clients for possible cardiovascular disease, diabetes, depression, sleep apnoea, certain cancers and a number of other conditions.
Western Clinical School Director of Education, Associate Professor Stephen Lew, says the experience has helped students develop their interpersonal skills by dealing with people from a wide range of circumstances and backgrounds.
“In taking part in this community project, students gained an extra perspective on healthcare,” Professor Lew says.
“The immediate benefits were improved communication skills, while the understanding of the community and individual patient perspectives provide valuable lessons for their ongoing studies and future career.”
For third-year medical student Rebecca Byron, helping to administer the screening provided a unique opportunity to engage with the community and make a difference to the lives of people who have lacked medical care.
“During our medical training, we find ourselves exposed to the hospital system, we clamour to see patients, to practise new procedures, aspire to treat patients and to make a difference,” Ms Byron explains.
“The screening program has helped to reinforce the idea that those most in need of our services are the ones who often don’t even make it into our wards. Maybe we can make a real difference simply by engaging with the community, having a conversation with people, offering them some advice, rather than waiting until people within these communities are forced to come to us,” she says.
The results of the screenings have been dramatic, flagging key areas of concern including diabetes and blood pressure, drinking habits, healthy lifestyle choices, sleep-related issues and smoking addiction.
For a number of the cases Ms Byron examined, the readings were so concerning that doctors were phoned to make available individuals’ appointments on the same day of their screenings.
“As someone who lives in western Melbourne, and is part of the Western Hospital, I am glad for the opportunity to be more involved within my own community,” she says.
“This opportunity has left me with lessons and experiences I will never forget, that will make me a better doctor, and possibly even a better person.”
As a way of showing their appreciation to the University and the Western Clinical School, WMRDA was able to work with Ventura Bus Lines to facilitate the donation of a 26-seat bus to help transport students between Sunshine and Footscray Hospitals, meaning they will be able to use their time more efficiently and arrive for class on time.
Given the success of the Community Health Screening Program in Melbourne’s west, it is hoped it can be extended to other regions across Australia, helping more disadvantaged people to access information about their health.