Evaluation of the Primary Health Networks shows growing impact of PHNs on their communities’ health

Evaluation of the Primary Health Networks shows growing impact of PHNs on their communities’ health

14 January, 2019

In 2018, Ernst and Young released Evaluation of the Primary Health Networks Program which evaluated the performance of the PHN Program. Commissioned by the Australian Government, the evaluation highlighted a number of ways the Primary Health Networks (PHNs) are meeting their objectives and improving the health of their local communities.

The evaluation aimed to:

(1) assess how the PHN Program was implemented in local contexts

(2) understand the extent to which the PHN Program had an impact and achieved its intended objectives

(3) inform the ongoing implementation of the PHN Program. The evaluation did not assess individual PHNs but instead used their experiences to evaluate the effectiveness of the PHN Program as a whole.

Comments from executive summary

The below statements highlight collaboration and the central role of PHNs in the health system.

“As independent regionally-based organisations, they are bringing value to the system and their communities by proactively working to help improve service integration and address health service needs and gaps.”

“The vast majority of stakeholders interviewed as part of this evaluation confirmed that the overarching program objectives are sound and that PHNs have a critical role in helping to deliver sustainable, integrated and safe primary health care in Australia.”

Evaluation Question 1: To what extent are PHN functions fit for purpose?

The findings of question one of the evaluation noted the ability of PHNs to create positive change.

PHNs are on the way to cementing themselves as the pre-eminent primary health care organisations to effect change in the integration and delivery of health care services in their regions.”

“The level of maturity of relationships with all stakeholders is trending upwards, with the greatest improvement reported with drug and alcohol service providers.”

The Victorian Suicide Prevention Trials were highlighted in the report as an example of good relationship building and collaboration. Eastern Melbourne PHN is part of these Place Based Suicide prevention trials, with locations in the Cities of Maroondah and Whittlesea, involving partnerships with a range of stakeholders.

Evaluation Question 2: Has the PHN Program increased the efficiency and effectiveness of medical services for patients, particularly those at risk of poor health outcomes?

While the evaluation authors noted that PHNs are still relative newcomers to the health landscape, they also mentioned positive outcomes are emerging.

“The PHN Program is showing indications of progress in achieving early outcomes. For example, PHNs are: demonstrating a better understanding of the health needs of their communities (through analysis and planning); identifying and building effective partnerships to address shared priorities; and are developing innovative ways of commissioning services.”

The report attributes much of this success to the strong collaborative partnerships with stakeholders, such as Local Hospital Networks which allow PHNs to, “ . . . address shared priorities and developing innovative ways of commissioning.”

Evaluation Question 3: Has the PHN Program improved the coordination of care to ensure patients receive the right care, in the right place, at the right time?

The evaluation found that PHNs have made progress in establishing foundations needed to improve regional coordination of care to benefit people using the system and the health system as a whole.

“They have done so through their relationship-building and system integration and capacity-building activities (for example, supporting general practice), as well as through broader service-level and patient-level integration activities (for example, referral pathways and the establishment of referral units).”

Key statistics:

  • 74 per cent of PHNs reported that the majority or all practices in their region accepted their practice-capacity building support.
  • Increased referral pathways developed: Over 7,000 pathways were developed by 2016–2017. These provided services with localised best practice care pathways for specific conditions, assisting in the coordination of care, discharge planning and working towards patients receiving the right care, in the right place, at the right time.
  • Increased use of eHealth (My Health Record, data sharing): All PHNs reported a high focus on eHealth activities and 67 per cent of PHNs reported that the majority, or all engaged practices, accepted this support.

The report can be accessed via the Department of Health website.