Could Optima Help Make Tough Health Budget Decisions?

With two major draft reports recommending major changes in the mental health and aged care sectors, the Federal Government is facing some tough decisions. Clearly, there is a need for fundamental reforms in these areas, but it’s unlikely that the Government will agree to fund every one of these reports’ numerous recommendations. 

So how should the government prioritise the funding available to ensure that the changes made will deliver maximum benefits? An Australian-developed tool called Optima could assist in answering this question.

What is Optima?

Optima is a software package tool developed by Australian mathematician, Professor David Wilson. It uses mathematical modelling incorporating different types of data to help guide funders in making policy and funding allocation decisions within the health sector. 

Optima tools have been developed and applied in close partnership and with funding from global health agencies including the: World Bank, Global Fund, and the U.S. Center for Disease Control. Optima also receives funding from the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council.

Optima was initially developed as a response to the global HIV/AIDS epidemic, noting that decisions about policies and programs occur in the context of budget allocations and operational plans, which are likely to vary over time and place. 

How Optima works

The Optima approach and disease-specific tools were conceptualised and developed by the Directors of the Optima Consortium for Decision Science, Ltd. in partnership with the World Bank. For a brief video explaining the Optima Approach click here.

All software produced by the Optima Consortium for Decision Science is open-access, cloud-based software written in Python and JavaScript. Since it is used via a web interface, the only requirement for use is an internet connection.

Optima has now been used in over 50 countries and in the Sudan, Optima’s use was associated with a decrease in new HIV infections of up to 37 percent. In Belarus, Optima helped reduce TB-related deaths by 30 percent. In Nigeria, it’s expected that Optima will have averted 100,000+ malaria-related deaths by 2020. 

How Optima could help in Australia

20-40% of health resources are wasted due to inefficiencies. About half of this waste is due to funding the wrong types of services and activities. By targeting the right thing at the right time with the right people, we can ensure our limited health resources are used to deliver maximum value.

“Mental health is one current issue which could benefit from using Optima, in particular in identifying the best balance of different professionals across the mental health workforce,” said Professor Wilson. 

“Another potential for us would be to look at when it is appropriate to shift the location of care from hospitals or a secondary care setting to primary health care. Optima can also provide insight into new infrastructure resourcing decisions, such as where new public hospitals and clinics should be built, given factors such as demographic trends and future health needs.”

Professor David Wilson was a finalist in the Data Innovation category of Research Australia’s Health and Medical Awards for his work in developing Optima. 

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