University of Waikato Research Fellow Dr Chunhuan Lao has been awarded $36,000 in funding from the Lottery Health Research Committee to support an osteoarthritis project aimed at addressing a gap in health research knowledge in New Zealand.
The project will explore the regional and ethnic disparities in rates of osteoarthritis associated hip and knee replacement surgeries, and will estimate the mortality ratio between these patients and the general population.
Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis, affecting 14-15% of adults. It’s also the leading cause of disability in adults, and has significant impact on patients’ quality of life, work productivity and healthcare costs. Hip and knee replacements can help alleviate pain and improve function, but the cost is substantial, placing a huge economic burden on the country. As the number of surgeries is projected to keep increasing, Dr Lao’s research aims to quantify the costs of osteoarthritis related hip and knee replacement surgeries to inform future medical resource distribution and decision-making.
“I’m very pleased about the funding,” Dr Lao says. “This grant is a landmark moment in my academic career.”
Existing research shows that Māori and Pasifika communities experience disadvantages in access to healthcare services compared to Pākehā, however equity in access to hip and knee replacement surgery has not been previously explored. Dr Lao will perform a time-trend analysis on data from 85,000 primary hip and knee replacement surgeries performed between 2005 and 2014 to examine how regional and ethnic differences have changed over time. Data analysis will provide evidence to inform decision-making relating to medical resource distribution, so that services can be better delivered to meet the needs of disadvantaged groups. Researchers will also compare the relative rate of mortality between people undergoing the surgeries and the general population, by gender, ethnicity and District Health Board.
“This project is highly relevant to District Health Boards, clinicians and the Māori and Pasifika communities,” Dr Lao says. “We will seek to present the research results in local surgical forums, key hospitals and in national and international Rheumatology, Orthopaedics and Public Health conferences.”
The osteoarthritis research project will be carried out by an experienced multi-disciplinary team, including epidemiologist Professor Ross Lawrenson, health economist Dr Chunhuan Lao, rheumatologist consultant Dr Douglas White and orthopaedic surgeons Dr David Lees and Dr Sandeep Patel, in collaboration with the Consumer Council of the Waikato District Health Board.
“This research aims to improve equity in health care,” Dr Lao says. “If we find that Māori and Pasifika patients have worse access to hip and knee replacement surgery, this information will be disseminated to policy makers, so that action can be taken to reduce inequity.”
Lottery Health Research grants support the pursuit of research projects which translate into meaningful health outcomes and contribute to a better understanding of the causes, prevention and treatment of disorders affecting New Zealanders.