Australia's healthcare system is a multi-layered web of national guidelines, state regulations and self-operating private practices.
Policy makers have pushed for a more centralised system under the National Health Reform Act (2011), but informed policy making is still limited by what little research exists.
That could change as UTS's Centre for Health Economics Research and Evaluation (CHERE) partners with Associate Professor Gianluca Veronesi from Leeds University Business School in an exciting new research project.
Veronesi joins Associate Professor at CHERE, Kees Van Gool, under a Key Technology Partnership (KTP) between UTS and Leeds University to produce unique insights into Australia's healthcare system.
"We want to see what variation exists in the governance style across the different states and territories in Australia, and what this variation means for performance," says Veronesi.
"Is there any particular governance model that ensures better financial management of hospitals and better patient outcomes?"
Veronesi recently spent four weeks at UTS as a KTP Visiting Fellow in order to meet with Department of Health officials and lay the groundwork for the first research paper.
Every year UTS hosts a number of guests under the Visiting Fellow Programs, enabling greater academic exchange and collaboration between UTS and its partner universities across the world.
"These are not questions you can answer over the phone. Going to meet with the Department of Health was extremely valuable in terms of understanding what they are interested in and what kind of data is available," says Veronesi.
In their discussions with the Department of Health, Veronesi and Van Gool were able to obtain access to previously undisclosed health records that will contribute to their research.
"One of the real assets of this trip is gaining access to that data. Now we know that the records exist it's just a matter of bringing it all together for the purpose of analysis," says Van Gool.
For both researchers, the joint project is an opportunity to fill the gap in healthcare data in Australia, which will ultimately help policy makers deliver improved patient outcomes.
"When it comes to primary care you want your system to be integrated to deliver continuity of care across the country," says Van Gool.
"When the government brought in structural change in 2011 they knew they had to do it, but exactly how it should be done is still a question that needs to be answered. I think that's where Gianluca can really help us to understand and lead research in this area."
Veronesi is also interested in the real impact that this project can have on policy making and understanding the implications of adopting a certain governance model for health care quality and patient experience.
"There are real, practical lessons to be learnt from this – lessons that we hope will have an impact," he says.
Veronesi has spent the past five years researching the impact of healthcare governance on performance outcomes in England.
He welcomes the opportunity to apply his expertise to the complex Australian healthcare system.
"The English system is very centralised; you can't see much local variation in healthcare management. However that is the reality for the Australian context," he says.
"This new research will be adding an element of variation and complexity to my previous work. That is what makes this project more interesting from my perspective."
The partnership is also testament to the importance of cross-faculty research as the UTS Business School deepens its engagement with the health sector.
"Working with CHERE is instrumental for the project given the in-depth and unique knowledge of the context and history of the Australian healthcare system of its members," Veronesi says.
"There are not many researchers in the world – I say with confidence – that want to do the kind of research that we want to do.
"There is also not a lot of health management research that uses the tools that economics and econometrics provide. Current research is mostly qualitative. Coming together in this way will allow us to answer questions that otherwise will not be answered."