Ballarat Innovation and Research Collaboration for Health chief executive Professor Mark Yates believes any investment in the fledgling research organisation will be repaid many times over by savings to the health system resulting from research being conducted.
BIRCH has received a $150,000 state government grant allowing its research work to continue.
"The cost savings this translational research can deliver are significant savings coming back in to the state hospital system and federal health system," Professor Yates said.
Among BIRCH's current projects are research to shorten the length of time patients spend in hospital, keeping community members healthier at home, hysterectomy rates, urinary tract infections in nursing homes and looking at the oral health and care of nursing home patients.
It has also moved quickly toward research that is coronavirus relevant, including support for a low-cost ventilator invented by Gekko Industries' Sandy Gray.
The BIRCH collaborative brings together Ballarat's brightest medical minds - the city's two major health services, St John of God Ballarat and Ballarat Health Services, and the six universities offering local health professional training - to conduct research to transform practices in hospitals and across health services.
But the institution has struggled to access research grants and other funding because of the type of research it is conducting.
"The way we make a difference in health services, the different form of research that BIRCH will be driving ... is not research that gains all the grant money which is why we need support from philanthropists and government.
"The difficulty we have in this climate is there is not a lot of free money for research that is not already identified ... and the challenge is the information we gain we want to share really rapidly, as quickly as we can with other services so they can do the same thing, which is completely different to other research from universities where you want to protect the intellectual property, wait years for it to be published and let out for people to know."
Associate Professor Yates said BIRCH would also look to evaluate some of the changes that COVID-19 has forced on to health care.
"There's an enormous amount of work we can do that has been driven by COVID that needs to be evaluated. Telehealth videoconferencing has boomed but we don't know whether it actually delivers the same outcome as a face to face (doctor's) visit.
"We've got to be careful telehealth doesn't entrench disadvantage where rural patients only see a screen not a doctor and look at the health outcomes. It's critical because it's no good saving costs unless there's a better patient outcome."
He said Ballarat was uniquely placed as a centre for transformative and translational research because almost everyone came through either SJOG or Ballarat Health Services so outcomes could be easily measured.
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The $150,000 from the state government, funded as part of the Delivering for Regional and Rural Victoria Program, comes on top of more than $300,000 in seed funding provided in 2018.
"More than 30 per cent of the population of our state live in regional Victoria and to have a research centre focus on the health and wellbeing of regional and rural Victorians is much needed," said Wendouree MP Juliana Addison.
"It shows the value that the government holds BIRCH in and we know they are doing great work ... and as a member of parliament anything that could potentially save the health system lots of money in the future is very welcome."
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