National mental health information priorities 2nd edition

4.5 - Strengthening workforce uptake and capacity to use information

Page last updated: June 2005

4.5.1 Rationale
4.5.2 Consolidation activities
4.5.3 New initiatives

4.5.1 Rationale

The success of the various initiatives taken in Australia to improve mental health information depends, ultimately, on a change in the way information is both regarded and used by the mental health workforce. Much of the effort under the Second National Mental Health Plan was directed to introducing clinicians to the new information collections being put in place by all jurisdictions as well as implementing training in the use of standard outcome measures. By June 2003, approximately 10,000 clinical staff participated in training events designed to raise awareness of information developments and build basic skills that were conducted by the States and Territories.

More is needed to develop a workforce that is genuinely engaged, rather than simply cooperative with, the information developments taking place in Australia's mental health services. Feedback from clinicians points to the discrepancy between the information now available within the mental health sector and the capacity of the workforce to access, interpret and apply that information in ways that support quality improvement. A misconception is also evident regarding the intention of governments in providing support to information initiatives, based on concerns that it may be related to an underlying desire to reduce funding to mental health. Each of these factors compromises the extent to which the current investments in information will produce real benefits.

The work ahead requires action across three areas:
  • First, continuing effort is needed to improve awareness of the objectives and scope of Australia's mental health information development approach. This will require communication through a range of media to promote accurate understanding of both the direction being taken as well as the potential benefits that are created for improving mental health services.

  • Second, continuing training programs are needed to consolidate the achievements of the training forums conducted under the Second National Mental Health Plan. New training is required both to extend skills beyond the basic level and address the needs of new clinicians as they enter the mental health workforce.

  • Third, specific initiatives are needed to improve the skill of the workforce in accessing and applying the new information for its intended purposes. This involves assisting clinicians in analysing and interpreting data for such purposes as development of care plans, monitoring client progress or informing risk management. Beyond the individual clinician, team leaders and service managers need to be equipped to use information to better understand their agency's performance and undertake quality improvement exercises.
The emphasis on developing an 'information literate' workforce is consistent with priorities emerging across the whole health sector. The recently established Australian Health Information Council has identified the development of information technology and information management skills in the health workforce as one of its early priority tasks.
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4.5.2 Consolidation activities

Continuing training programs in data collection protocols and measurement instruments

Initiatives will be taken by all States and Territories to develop training approaches designed to maintain skill levels of the existing workforce and respond to new needs arising from staff turnover. Options for self-directed learning through interactive websites, CD-ROM formats and distance education will be introduced progressively to supplement more intensive face-to-face approaches.

Communication strategy for promoting industry awareness of information development objectives

Current State and Territory activities to inform their workforces about information developments through local websites, newsletters and other media will be extended. These will be complemented by a national-level communication strategy coordinated by AMHOCN (www.amhocn.org) that will include further development of the national 'casemix and outcomes' website and its various user forums, conferences, newsletters and related publications.

4.5.3 New initiatives

Building competency in information use amongst clinical leaders and service managers

Initiatives will be taken by individual State and Territory jurisdictions to provide skill development opportunities for clinician leaders and service managers in using information outputs for a range of purposes. Training will focus on both the technical and conceptual aspects of data analysis and interpretation and use of information in service management and in clinical quality improvement.

Accreditation systems for professional trainers

Options will be explored to develop formally accredited education courses designed for professional staff who are responsible for implementing education programs in the routine use of clinical measurement instruments. This work will be progressed at a national level by AMHOCN.