More Cobram residents accessing health services, study finds

Elderly patient having their hearing checked by University of Melbourne researcher
A high level of confidence in GPs was found, with 91 per cent of participants reporting their confidence in their GP as “excellent” or “very good”. Image: supplied

Access to health services in Cobram, Victoria has increased significantly in the past 15 years and happiness is above the state average, according to the to the latest Crossroads study.

Led by the University of Melbourne’s Department of Rural Health, Crossroads is one of the most detailed health projects undertaken in rural Australia, designed to understand the prevalence of chronic health conditions and healthcare use in the Goulburn Valley.

Households in Cobram were randomly selected to take part in the study with 431 adults completing a detailed health questionnaire.

Since the first study in Cobram was conducted in 2001-2003, the use of services has increased, with 95 per cent of participants surveyed in 2016-2018 visiting a GP in the past year. A high level of confidence in GPs was also found, with 91 per cent of participants reporting their confidence in their GP as “excellent” or “very good”.

There has been an increase in most regular health screenings such as blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes, bowel and skin checks. Rates of smoking have declined to 16 per cent, lower than the state average.

University of Melbourne rural health expert Lisa Bourke said the project aims to see health services not only improved, but better tailored to local community needs and wants.

“By understanding more about community needs and the barriers to care, we can help local providers identify gaps, make strategic decisions for their health services and build cases for funding,” Professor Bourke said.

Although there have been positive gains since the original study, rates of chronic and long-term conditions have increased.

The most prevalent health conditions related to ageing, including eye problems, arthritis, and hearing loss.

Similar to other rural regions, health behaviours remain a challenge and the high rate of obesity is concerning, with 77 per cent of participants in the overweight or obese range.

Mental health conditions were reported to have increased, while the use of mental health services was low.

Researchers identified three key focus areas for improvement: strategies for improved management of chronic disease; increasing access to health services, particularly mental health; and improving health behaviours through community activity programs.

Nathalia Cobram Numurkah Health Services (NCN Health) chief executive officer Jacque Phillips said they will use the information from the Crossroads study in planning for local health needs in Cobram.

“These findings will inform our future planning with a particular focus on chronic health conditions, including mental health and improving access to local health care,” Ms Phillips said.

“NCN Health has an excellent partnership with the University and we appreciate the opportunity for the Cobram community to be included in the Crossroads study.”

The Crossroads project is delivered in partnership with local health services and local governments with support from the National Health and Medical Research Council.

The research team extend their sincere thanks to all of the participants who made this study possible – giving up their time and sharing vital information to improve local health services and drive evidence-based decision making.

Residents are invited to attend a community feedback session about the key findings on Friday, 29 November at 2pm being held at Education House, NCN Health, O’Dwyer Ave Cobram. Registration required: trybooking.com/BGTRE