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The Association of Salaried Medical Specialists (ASMS) is the professional association and union uniting doctors and dentists in New Zealand.

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Ministry’s primary care appointee feels at home at ‘heart of system’

21 June 2018 Virginia McMillan - New Zealand Doctor

Juliet Rumball-Smith has worked in, researched on and built partnerships with primary care, all of which has cemented her view that it’s the heart of the health system.

“All the evidence points to [care provided in the community] being better for the patients and for the system as a whole,” adds Dr Rumball-Smith, who is soon to start at the Ministry of Health as clinical chief advisor with a focus on primary healthcare.

Not yet ready to comment on the specifics of general practice funding or the priorities of her new role, she is, nevertheless, keen to help bring change.

“To provide high-quality, accessible and equitable care, we need the structure, resources and relationships that support that,” she says.

Dr Rumball-Smith, who trained in public health medicine, worked early in her career in youth health. She went on to gain a PhD in epidemiology, for work comparing care for Māori with that for non-Māori.

Formerly a medical officer of health at Northland DHB, she is now director of health intelligence and translational medicine there.

Part of rheumatic fever prevention

Her work in New Zealand and overseas has included a focus on primary care, in particular, integration and co-location of different disciplines, health IT, and healthcare management and evaluation.

As she puts it: “I am completely committed to clever, strategic, data-driven policy that is equitable and designed to improve health outcomes…[with]…primary care at the centre.”

She has been part of rheumatic fever prevention in Northland – “we looked at data and helped general practices understand health needs and how the patients are using their services… and what might be affecting outcomes”.
This prevention work was successful and was therefore scaled back, she says.

The neighbourhood health care home in her district has also been a recent highlight as it meant collaborative partnerships between the DHB and primary care, Dr Rumball-Smith says.

Her most recent of several overseas postings was as a 2016/17 New Zealand Harkness Fellow at the Southern California Evidence-based Practice Center for the RAND Corporation, where she looked at the impact of health IT on quality of care, and how it can be used to reduce overuse.

When she starts at the ministry in September, Dr Rumball-Smith will be the first chief advisor for primary care in four years.