New Health-e Mines program to improve access to health services for the mining sector
University of Newcastle (UON) researchers are developing a ‘Health-e Mines’ program to promote better health in the Australian mining industry after securing a $290,000 grant from the Australian Coal Association Research Program (ACARP).
The team of researchers led by Associate Professor Frances Kay-Lambkin will use the funding to develop and test a Virtual Health System over the next two years to improve mental health, reduce alcohol and other drug use and address fatigue related problems in the mining industry.
Associate Professor Kay-Lambkin, a researcher with experience in e-health initiatives, said the mining sector requires an interactive, easy-to-use tool to discuss health issues in a safe online environment that secures the user’s privacy and can be accessed from anywhere. “A program like this has the flexibility to be applied to multiple sectors to encourage people, especially males, to positively manage their own health,” Associate Professor Kay-Lambkin said.
“As in the general community, there is a high occurrence of alcohol and drug use in the mining sector. The problem is that this can lead to fatigue and concentration problems which have clear safety implications in this workforce. A program like ours can link users to online programs and other e-health initiatives already available to find help when needed.”
While health screening has been introduced in some areas of the mining sector, there are still difficulties in the accessibility of health services in rural and regional areas. In addition, the shiftwork nature of mining can make traditional health services even more difficult to access. Currently, only approximately 30% of those with a mental health, alcohol or other drug use problem are accessing treatment in Australia, and when accessed, evidence-based treatment is only provided in approximately 10% of cases.
“The purpose of e-health networks is to offer solutions to identified problems in the community such as those in the mining sector,” Associate Professor Kay-Lambkin said.
The project will develop and evaluate an online portal called ‘Health-e Mines’ to provide a direct, real-time link between employees and the latest health information including online screening, early intervention and treatment programs for enhancing mental and physical health.
Consultation from the mining sector, unions, supporting communities and health services will inform the creation of the site and smart phone app with iOS and Android compatibility to ensure content is relevant and accessible.
The tools will then be tested by mining employees at four sites across New South Wales and Queensland whose feedback will assist in identifying any changes that need to be made to make the portal as user-friendly and engaging to potential consumers. Once the consultative process is complete, Associate Professor Kay-Lambkin is anticipating the possibility of a nationwide roll-out with opportunities identified for further application in other sectors. “As a researcher, being able to move towards an implementation model rather than just developing a treatment and leaving it on the shelf is extremely important and is what makes this particular research project so exciting.”