OPTIMISE: a pragmatic stepped wedge cluster randomised trial of an intervention to improve primary care for refugees in Australia

Grant M. Russell, Katrina Long, Virginia Lewis, Joanne C. Enticott, Nilakshi Gunatillaka, I. Hao Cheng, Geraldine Marsh, Shiva Vasi, Jenny Advocat, Shoko Saito, Hyun Song, Sue Casey, Mitchell Smith, Mark F. Harris

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Objectives: To examine whether primary care outreach facilitation improves the quality of care for general practice patients from refugee backgrounds. Design: Pragmatic, cluster randomised controlled trial, with stepped wedge allocation to early or late intervention groups. Setting, participants: 31 general practices in three metropolitan areas of Sydney and Melbourne with high levels of refugee resettlement, November 2017 ‒ August 2019. Intervention: Trained facilitators made three visits to practices over six months, using structured action plans to help practice teams optimise routines of refugee care. Major outcome measure: Change in proportion of patients from refugee backgrounds with documented health assessments (Medicare billing). Secondary outcomes were refugee status recording, interpreter use, and clinician-perceived difficulty in referring patients to appropriate dental, social, settlement, and mental health services. Results: Our sample comprised 14 633 patients. The intervention was associated with an increase in the proportion of patients with Medicare-billed health assessments during the preceding six months, from 19.1% (95% CI, 18.6–19.5%) to 27.3% (95% CI, 26.7–27.9%; odds ratio, 1.88; 95% CI, 1.42–2.50). The impact of the intervention was greater in smaller practices, practices with larger proportions of patients from refugee backgrounds, recent training in refugee health care, or higher baseline provision of health assessments for such patients. There was no impact on refugee status recording, interpreter use increased modestly, and reported difficulties in refugee-specific referrals to social, settlement and dental services were reduced. Conclusions: Low intensity practice facilitation may improve some aspects of primary care for people from refugee backgrounds. Facilitators employed by local health services could support integrated approaches to enhancing the quality of primary care for this vulnerable population. Trial registration: Australian New Zealand Clinical Trials Registry, ACTRN12618001970235 (retrospective).

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages7
JournalMedical Journal of Australia
Publication statusAccepted/In press - Sep 2021


  • General practice
  • Primary care
  • Quality of health care
  • Randomized controlled trial as topic
  • Refugees

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