Hyun Song

I started my PhD at the Centre for Primary Health Care and Equity in early 2016. Before this, I had joined the Centre as a Research Officer in June 2015 as a Research Officer working on various projects relating to equitable access and patient-centred care, including primary care innovations to improve access in vulnerable populations (IMPACT), health literacy of health care organisations, and using the Patient Activation Measure (PAM) as an intervention tool. All of these projects were instrumental in shaping my own PhD topic and have provided me with important contextual knowledge of Australian primary care that I use in my research today.

My PhD study is on measuring the experience of chronic disease patients in Australian general practice, and how their feedback can be used to improve the quality of care they receive. In Australia, patient reported experience measures (PREMs) are captured mainly in acute care settings but at the primary care level this is not well developed beyond surveys administered for accreditation of general practices. No standardised, practice-based survey tool exists in this context in Australia and certainly not for service improvement. Part of this research is aiming to develop a patient experience survey tool that is tailored to the experiences of Australian chronic disease patients, with the direct input of these patients, their carers, and care providers. And a well-designed patient survey tool, administered in the right context using the right method, can generate the kind of information that not only benefits the patients, but makes the clinician’s job easier down the line.

It’s been a great experience so far: I have been able to travel to many different suburbs of Sydney to interview practitioners ranging from experienced GPs and practice nurses who have been working in their community for decades, to GP registrars who are brand new to their job. Some are solo GPs, others work in large group practices; some are practice owners, and some work in several different clinics throughout the week. The clinicians I’ve interviewed work with a diverse group of patient populations across Sydney but all share the same thing in common: they really want to do the best they can – with the resources available – to give their patients ‘good quality’ care. And needless to say, how they defined ‘quality’ varied greatly depending on their circumstances. That’s been a very interesting finding so far.

Interviewing these participants has been eye-opening, sometimes challenging, and mainly very encouraging. In addition to hearing their stories, I have been really enjoying the opportunity to explore different corners of Sydney that I would otherwise not have even heard of. As an international student, it’s given me an even deeper appreciation for Sydney and the diversity of communities that make up this vast city. Sometimes I even feel a little bit guilty going on these interviews because it feels like a fun field trip rather than academic research! I am very excited for the next set of interviews – this time with patients and their carers.

I am extremely happy with my PhD experience so far, and feel very grateful to be doing my research at CPHCE. The support I receive from my supervisors – Prof Mark Harris, Dr Sarah Dennis, and Dr Jean-Frederic Levesque – has been so helpful in shaping me into a better, more confident, researcher. The best advice I’ve received from them so far has been to not worry about doing a ‘perfect’ project and to just keep things moving. My PhD experience has been an exercise in self-reassurance, and trying to move past some of my insecurities as a researcher and as a person. And in that sense, choosing to do a PhD has been one of the most gratifying decisions I’ve ever made.