Our research activities focus on:
Improving the quality and safety of healthcare for women and children
We undertake research to inform and evaluate compliance with health policies relevant to maternal and child health, as well as research about specific aspects of care that carry high risk and/or high cost. This includes patient transfers, obstetric interventions and the use of blood products. We explore pregnancy outcomes as a result of gynaecological conditions, surgery or other complications. We also aim to understand what matters most to women about their care, and how health services can better support them.
Understanding changing trends in gestational diabetes
Gestational diabetes mellitus is defined as glucose intolerance that is diagnosed in pregnancy. It occurs in approximately 1 in 10 pregnancies and the incidence appears to be rising. Our research aims to better understand the influence of changed diagnostic criteria and increasing risk factors on these trends, and whether changes in diagnosis and management are resulting in improved maternal and neonatal outcomes.
The birth of a baby after 20 weeks’ gestation without signs of life, is a tragedy for parents and families. The rate of stillbirth in Australia is 7.4 per 1000 births, affecting approximately 2,200 women and families each year. We undertake research to analyse trends in stillbirth and identify potentially preventable factors to help reduce the incidence of stillbirths.
Reducing preterm births
Preterm birth is a birth before 37 completed weeks of pregnancy. In Australia, approximately 8-9% of births are preterm, although the rate is much higher among Aboriginal women (14%). We undertake research to identify socio-demographic, pregnancy-related, and other clinical factors that might identify those women and babies at increased risk for preterm birth. There is a particular focus on factors that are preventable, such as smoking in pregnancy.
Evaluating infant and maternal vaccination programs
Immunisation is one of the most important public health measures and has been credited with closing the gap in mortality between Indigenous and non-Indigenous populations. Despite these gains, outbreaks of vaccine preventable diseases continue to occur, with infants suffering the highest burden of severe disease. We undertake research using health and immunisation data to determine who is most at risk of severe disease or not getting their recommended vaccines on time.
Unlocking the potential of electronic health data to improve the outcomes of pregnant women and their babies
A wealth of electronic health data exists that can increase our understanding of health trends and outcomes for women and their babies. We are using data to provide insights into where and how resources can be best utilised to target those in greatest need.
The security and privacy of these health data are paramount, and we have been at the centre of developing an agreement for the sharing of health data across Sydney Health Partners, a collaboration between the University of Sydney and four major health services serving approximately 50% of NSW’s population. We are also working on the development of a state-wide maternity and newborn data analytics platform that would provide rapid analysis and feedback of pregnancy outcomes to the state, the local health districts and to individual hospitals.
Translating our research to health policy and practice
Fundamental to our work is a commitment to sharing research findings in ways that might influence broader health policy, planning and care delivery. We have partnerships with NSW Ministry of Health and Northern Sydney Local Health District, as well as strong links with state and nationally-appointed clinicians and policy makers who facilitate research translation.
Raising public awareness
We aim to educate, raise awareness and develop resources for health professionals and pregnant women targeting health behaviours that can optimise pregnancy outcomes. Research by our team and others has shown a downward shift in gestational age at birth, particularly among planned births. We have also shown the increased risks for adverse outcomes at birth and in later childhood with every week that a baby is born before 39 weeks. Our team is leading a campaign titled Every Week Counts (www.everyweekcounts.com.au) which aims to raise awareness amongst healthcare providers and expectant women about the benefits of birthing as close to 40 weeks gestation as possible, provided there is no clinical need for earlier delivery.