General practice takes centre stage at AAAPC conference

Anastasia Tsirtsakis

17/08/2020 3:49:38 PM

GPs from around the world came together to hear the latest insights on primary care research.

Research graphic
This year’s conference saw 180 primary care researchers come together to share their research, discuss new ideas, and to network with like-minded colleagues.

It was in March, at the start of the coronavirus pandemic, that the Australasian Association for Academic Primary Care (AAAPC) made the call to host their Annual Research Conference online.
Dr Phyllis Lau, President of the AAAPC Executive Committee and Senior Research Fellow at the University of Melbourne’s Department of General Practice, admits there were sleepless nights, but that it was all worth it.
‘One of our concerns was that people couldn’t engage as much as they would in a face-to-face conference. But the numbers that we were seeing across the workshops were just so encouraging, and the paper quality was fantastic,’ she told newsGP.
Held over 14–15 August, this year’s conference saw 180 primary care researchers come together to share their research, discuss new ideas, and to network with like-minded colleagues.
Day one kicked off with a welcome by Dr Lau, followed by presentations from Dr Liz Halcomb on ‘Bridging the research – policy – practice gap to achieve multidisciplinary primary care’, and Dr Paul Glasziou on ‘Better development, research and uptake of non-drug interventions’.
A plethora of topics pertaining to general practice were covered throughout the day, from education and training, to women’s health and the patient experience, as well as digital tools and technologies, access, and health promotion.
Among the highlights was a plenary that brought COVID-19 into focus.
Professor Danielle Mazza, Head of the Department of General Practice at Monash University and Director of SPHERE Centre of Research Excellence in Women’s Sexual and Reproductive Health in Primary Care, presented on ‘A coalition advocating for women’s sexual and reproductive health during the pandemic and beyond’.
‘The COVID coalition is a coming together of key stakeholders and clinician experts to try and address very significant issues that COVID has given rise to in relation to women’s sexual and reproductive health,’ Professor Mazza told newsGP.
‘How do you maintain access to services like abortion and contraception when you’ve got lockdown, when you’re worried about transmission in the community and face-to-face consultations, and maintaining accessibility through telehealth to important essential services for women?
‘That plenary was a real highlight. It really shows the innovation that is occurring in general practice in response to the pandemic, and highlighted the significant issues for GPs and practice nurses.’
GP and researcher Dr Karyn Alexander was another participant. Drawing on her GP-led respiratory clinic experience, she presented on ‘New models of care in a post-COVID19 GP world’.
‘I really enjoyed hearing from Dr Karyn Alexander,’ Dr Liz Sturgiss, Chair of the Conference Committee and Vice-President of the AAAPC Executive Committee, told newsGP.
‘She talked about their respiratory clinic that they have in Melbourne, and just looking at the way the new funding structure that came through from the Commonwealth for those clinics allowed them to be really innovative and how they structured their practice and how they worked as a team.
‘And it was really interesting hearing about how the GPs in her practice have really enjoyed the teamwork aspect of what they’re doing.’

‘The more we can get together and have these kinds of conversations, the richer it makes the research,’ Dr Liz Sturgiss, Chair of the Conference Committee and Vice-President of the AAAPC Executive Committee, said of the conference.

Dr Lau said the plenary on COVID-19 showed just how fast general practice, both in clinical practice and research, has adapted to the pandemic environment.
‘I’m very proud of how everyone pulled together,’ she said.
‘My own department, within days, people were submitting ethics applications to do research looking at use of PPE [personal protective equipment], and screening and testing.
‘But you know ethics is always very long, so we’re adapting. We have a rapid review just for COVID applications, and this is definitely not just limited to the University of Melbourne. So general practice research was fired up very quickly.’
Day two of the conference turned the focus to improving patient care, the role of primary healthcare, antimicrobial stewardship, patient provider interactions.
Research by Taryn Elliott and Jill Benson, ‘Why choose general practice? An overview of outcomes from the medical specialty decision-making project’, gave insight into the reduced number of medical students opting to go into general practice.
‘The biggest thing that came through was really the role modelling,’ Dr Sturgiss, who is a senior lecturer in general practice at Monash University, said.
‘So medical students and junior doctors are not having much contact with general practice, not having role models that they see who they want to have their career like them, [so] then they’re not choosing general practice.
‘You used to have a chance to do a general practice term in your intern year [through the PGPPP program], and we’ve lost that now. That’s really seen as a big disadvantage for people getting an idea of what general practice is all about.’
Conference attendees also had the chance to come together for small group discussions and poster sessions, with opportunities to network.
Despite the academic focus, Professor Mazza believes it is ‘critical’ that GPs engage with the discipline outside of the consultation room.
‘If you go to content conferences, the general practice voice is often drowned out. What this conference demonstrates is the broad range of issues that general practice covers, but also the common methodologies that we need to utilise when we do research in general practice in order to get the answers,’ she said.
‘A lot of the work we do is understanding current practice and then understanding where the gap is with the evidence, and then what the barriers and enablers are to putting that evidence into practice and then designing interventions and testing interventions in the general practice environment.’
Dr Sturgiss agrees.
‘We all bring our different experiences and we all have stuff to learn from each other,’ she said.
‘The more we can get together and have these kinds of conversations, the richer it makes the research and the more relevant.
‘We just really want to have research that improves patient care and helps communities to be more healthy, and we can really only do that when we all work together.’
The conference drew to a close with a prize ceremony. Those awarded this year:

  • Most Distinguished Paper Award – Professor Grant Russell, ‘Optimising primary care for refugees: Findings from an Australian cluster randomised trial’
  • Early Career Best Paper – Dr Fitriana Ekawati, ‘Adapting international hypertensive disorders of pregnancy (HDP) management recommendations to the context of Indonesian primary care’
  • Australian Journal of Primary Health Best Paper AwardAdnan Alam, ‘Advance care planning in dementia: A qualitative study of Australian general practitioners’
  • Best Poster Prize – Pravik Solanki, ‘Healthcare for transgender and gender diverse Australians: Comparing patient complexity in the ‘informed consent’ primary care model with the secondary model of care’
  • First Time Presenter Award – Asvini Subasinghe, ‘Contraceptive utilisation in women with a history of unintended pregnancies: Insights from the Australian Contraceptive ChOice pRoject (ACCORd)’
  • UQ Prize for Translational Research – Leslie Hawes, ‘A framework for antimicrobial stewardship in general practice’
The AAAPC also launched its #OurPrimaryCare campaign, inviting GPs to share their challenges, goals and passions in academic primary care online. 
In 2021 the AAAPC conference is set to be hosted by the University of Melbourne. Will it be held in person? Only time will tell.
‘[It depends] if COVID continues to impact on us,’ Dr Lau said.
‘But whether in person in Melbourne or online, there will definitely be a conference.’
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The RACGP Awards recognise outstanding achievements and exceptional individuals for their contribution to general practice. Visit the RACGP website for more information, or to nominate a GP or GP in training.

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