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$2.9m grant to fight over-treatment

Bond University researcher Tammy Hoffmann OAM has received a $2.9 million grant aimed at empowering patients to have a greater say in their medical care and combating over-treatment.

Tammy Hoffman profile shot
Dr Tammy Hoffmann

The Professor of Clinical Epidemiology secured the National Health and Medical Research Council’s Leadership Level 2 Investigator Grant for outstanding medical researchers.

As the lead researcher at the Centre for Evidence-Informed Health Decisions in the Institute for Evidence-Based Healthcare, Professor Hoffmann will use the money to continue her research into developing interventions to support shared decision-making, focusing on common treatments where benefits do not, or hardly, outweigh harms. 

“The five years of research will be about, at the very broadest level, helping people to make evidence-informed health decisions,” Professor Hoffmann said. 

“When people need to decide, ‘should I have this treatment or not’, or ‘should I have this test or not’, this research will help ensure that they're working in conjunction with their clinician to make a decision that has considered the evidence for ‘what might happen if I do have this treatment?’ and ‘what might happen if I don't?’”

According to Professor Hoffmann, the overuse of low-value care – where benefits do not, or barely, outweigh harms – is ubiquitous across health systems and estimated to be 25-30 percent of all care in Australia. 

This stems from an entrenched belief that more healthcare is always better, with patients and clinicians often overly optimistic about treatment benefits and not considering lower-risk treatments or the possible harms of treatments. 

“There are a lot of gaps in how often and how well shared decision-making is done, particularly in Australia,” Professor Hoffmann said.

“We don't have a national strategy or a national implementation plan to increase the uptake of shared decision-making which many countries now do. 

“This grant is about getting some important and useful research done that can be used by clinicians whether they work in hospitals or in the community, to really help make sure patients are involved in making informed decisions about their health. 

“It’s good for the health system too because it means we're not wasting money on treatments that are probably not necessary and it means that the most effective treatments are the ones being provided.” 

Professor Hoffmann has been conducting research in this area for almost 20 years but remains passionate about its importance to patients and the healthcare system. 

“There are very, very few decisions in healthcare that should be clinician-decided,” she said.

“Most decisions should be made with the genuine input of patients.

“Decision-making should consider the research evidence about benefits and harms of various treatment options so that we're really thinking about ‘is this the best option at this point in time for this patient?’”

Executive Dean of Bond University’s Faculty of Health Sciences and Medicine, Professor Nick Zwar, is a practising GP.

He said Professor Hoffmann’s research was vital for the sustainability of health care systems. 

“In my practice I see many patients requesting tests or treatments because they assume more must be better,” Professor Zwar said.

“It is not easy to know how best to have a discussion about wiser use of healthcare services to maximise benefit and minimise harms.”   

Professor Hoffmann is one of only four Queensland researchers - and the only one from the Gold Coast - to have been awarded the prestigious grant at this level. 

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