David Peiris: improving health systems for the vulnerable

Meet Associate Professor David Peiris, Program Head of Primary Health Care Research, who recently travelled to the United States after being awarded a Harkness Fellowship.

How long have you been working at The George Institute?

Since 2006.

What attracted you to working at The George Institute?

I have always been a big fan of the George’s mission. The opportunity to make a tangible difference to health outcomes, especially for people and communities that have inequitable access to health care, was the major driver for working at the George.

What are you currently working on and how will this help the mission of The George Institute?

I am mainly interested in improving health systems for vulnerable populations around the world. At the moment we are looking at many strategies to tackle that challenge, including exploring the role of technology, paying for health care in different ways, and re-engineering of the health workforce.

What is your professional background?

I trained as a GP in South Australia and the Northern Territory and did a Masters degree in International Public Health and a PhD at University of Sydney.

Why do you enjoy working at The George Institute?

I like the pursuit of excellence in research, the incredibly talented people that work here, the opportunity to think big and the potential for all of that to be useful for the communities we work with.

To explain to people what I do I say…

I try to tackle complex problems in the health system so that people get better health care.

My biggest achievement so far…

Professionally, I have enjoyed working on a whole range of strategies using e-health and mobile health technologies and deploying them in Australia, India and China. But it’s a long road ahead and I’ve only taken baby steps along the journey but it looks promising. Personally, doing the Boston marathon earlier this year was the realisation of a decades long dream that a couch potato like me could actually run for 42km! 

How has the Harkness Fellowship assisted you with your work?

The US health system is undergoing radical changes with the Obamacare health reforms now in full swing. There is a great appetite for innovation, borne from a dark history of disastrous, uncontrolled health care spending. Sitting at Harvard University and learning from leading experts was a terrific opportunity, but visiting health centres around the country and understanding what was happening on the ground was perhaps even more rewarding. It has allowed me to think outside the box and to connect with a large group of like minded people. 

What are the benefits of the Harkness Fellowship for future participants?

The Harkness is life changing both personally and professionally and everybody who has done one says the same thing so it must be true!