Dr Shanthi Ramanathan

Dr Shanthi Ramanathan
Research Program:

What are your research interests?

My research interests are broadly in the area of quality and safety of healthcare, and making sure that the limited healthcare resources we have are used to provide the best quality care we can afford.

We know in Australia that adults only get appropriate care (care that is evidence or consensus-based) 57 per cent of the time. The bucket of money we are given to provide this care isn't keeping up with the increase in our healthcare costs, so we need to phase out inappropriate care, phase in appropriate care, and find the most cost-effective ways to provide this care.

To help solve these issues, I am working in the following areas:

  1. Implementation Science – I want to understand how best to get health services and clinicians to implement evidence-based care. This includes understanding what barriers there are to adopting new knowledge, medical techniques, models of care, medical equipment and medicines and phasing out what is shown to be ineffective 
  2. Impact Assessments – I'm keen to use a framework developed at HMRI to help researchers ensure their research influences health policy and practice and ultimately improves the health and wellbeing of Australians. To do this we must be able to show how research is translated and how that leads to impact, but we must also be able to measure what that impact is so we know how best to spend our research dollars for maximum impact.
  3. Health economics – I am very keen to apply economic techniques and principles to be able to work out the best value for money when it comes to both health research and healthcare delivery. I am particularly keen to see this type of economic assessment become commonplace within the health and medical research community and health services across Australia.
  4. Continuous quality improvement – this area of research is ongoing because improvement is likely to be slow and gradual. This means I will need to develop an affordable way to continuously measure the level of appropriate care delivered in Australia and ensure implementation science, impact assessment and health economics are well understood, valued and remain on the research agenda as part of an overall aim to keep improving and make Australia the best healthcare system in the world.  

Why did you get into research?

I got into research some 25 years ago because, at the time, I was interested in making sure that consumers of products and services got the quality and safety they paid for and deserved. At that stage my research was focused mainly in developing countries.

What drove me was my passion to use research and community empowerment to stop the unethical sale and marketing of products and services known to be unsafe, defective, not fit-for-purpose; mainly to disadvantaged, poor and uneducated consumers. I later took this same passion specifically into health services in rural and remote Australia so that people living in the bush got the right care, at the right time at a convenient location.

Later I continued this passion into other areas of healthcare, working to improve the quality and safety of the care provided to Australians and helping to find new and novel ways of keeping people out of hospitals and providing them with the best possible care.  

What would be the ultimate goal for your research?

My vision is an Australia where our best minds use health research effectively to keep as many people as possible healthy and out of hospital; to get as many sick people well in the shortest possible time while causing no harm; and to find cures for as many chronic, debilitating and terminal diseases as possible. I dream of an Australia where not one dollar is spent either on research that does not make a difference or healthcare that is ineffective or wasteful. 

Biography

Dr Ramanathan is a researcher and implementation scientist who completed a Bachelor of Arts in Communication, a Master of Health Science and a PhD assessing the implementation of the NHMRC Guidelines for the treatment of low back pain.

She began her career in 1991 as a researcher in health programs at the Asia-Pacific Office of Consumers’ International particularly in the areas of consumer protection, community development, rational drug use, smoking and primary health care. Dr Ramanathan then relocated to Australia in 1995 and commenced as the Executive Officer of the Australian Rural Health Research Institute where she was involved in implementing a range of public health intervention programs in rural and remote settings across Australia. 

Between 2005 and 2016, Dr Ramanathan was variously a Research Fellow, Director of Research and Head of Client Research at the Hunter Valley Research Foundation with responsibility for a portfolio of mainly health and social research projects with a combined value of over $6 million. Between 1999 and 2005, she also performed short-term consultancy stints with both the Greater Murray and Hunter New England Area Health Services mainly in the area of continuing professional education of health service staff.

Prior to joining HMRI as a Post-Doctorate Fellow in Health Economics, Dr Ramanathan worked with the University of South Australia as Project Manager of CareTrack Kids, a study about the appropriateness of healthcare delivered to Australian children for 19 common paediatric conditions and the type and frequency of adverse events in children. The study involved a retrospective review of patient medical records within hospitals, general practices and paediatric clinics.

At HMRI, Dr Ramanathan is leading the implementation of a framework to encourage and assess the impact of research within two NHMRC Centres for Research Excellence in stroke rehabilitation and integrated quality improvement in indigenous primary healthcare, as well as running workshops to speed up the adoption of FAIT within the health and medical research community. She is an experienced focus group and workshop facilitator.

Future Focus

My future focus is to get the Framework to Assess the Impact from Translational health research (FAIT) to be adopted as widely as possible and for research impact (beyond academic outputs) to become part of the selection and evaluation criteria for all health and medical research funding. In tandem I will be focusing on embedding the principles of Implementation Science and Health Economics into health services research to ensure that we optimise the implementation of high-value evidence-based care and phase out ineffective, low value care. 

Specialised/Technical Skills 

  • Impact Assessment
  • Implementation Science 
  • Engagement (consumers, clinicians, policy-makers) 
  • Program evaluation
  • Qualitative and quantitative data collection
  • Costing models
  • Cost-benefit analysis

Affiliations

  • Postdoctoral Fellow, Health Research Economics, Hunter Medical Research Institute
  • Centre for Research Excellence in Integrated Quality Improvement in Indigenous Primary Healthcare 
  • Centre for Research Excellence in Stroke Rehabilitation and Brain Recovery
  • Conjoint Lecturer, Faculty of Health and Medicine, University of Newcastle
  • Visiting Research Fellow, Centre for Healthcare Resilience and Implementation Science, Australian Institute of Health Innovation, Macquarie University