Integrating Health Care Planning for Health and Prosperity in North Queensland

This project aims to improve the responsiveness of health services to the health needs of communities in the North Queensland region.

The primary research question is: How do we best develop and implement integrated place-based planning to the unique contexts of northern Queensland?

Members of the project team (from left to right): Dr Alex Edelman, Dr Karen Johnston, Associate Professor Stephanie Topp, Dr Deb Smith and Professor Sarah Larkins

Why is this study needed?

Investing in the health workforce and related improvement in models of care can be a strong economic pillar supporting sustained prosperity. A healthy community is a necessary to ensure stable local communities that will enable continued regional economic development. There are many similarities in health challenges and service delivery across northern Australia, with small, dispersed populations in challenging geographies. Despite this, lack of coordination in planning and delivery of health services across the spectrum from community to primary to hospital care leads to inefficiencies, duplication, gaps and less than optimal health and economic outcomes. This project provides a unique opportunity to unite health industry partners and engage with local communities to improve efficiencies and effectiveness in service planning and delivery.

How will the study be conducted?

The project has two distinct phases. Phase 1 involved the synthesis and spatial mapping of existing, publicly available data to create the Northern Queensland Health Atlas. The Atlas is an online, interactive map which visually displays population and health data, health services available and workforce information. Various indicators can be selected and overlayed to visualise, and facilitate consideration of, unmet need or gaps in services or workforce. Explore the Atlas here

A gap analysis was undertaken to facilitate a broad understanding of unmet health need in the project region. It took a pragmatic approach drawing on key principles of health care equity to develop a composite Index of Unmet Need. The Index included indicators of known determinants of health, current and projected health need, service need, workforce and geographic access. The Gap Analysis of Health Needs and Services in the Northern Queensland Region Report is available upon request.

The Atlas and Gap Analysis were used to guide consultation with stakeholder groups in the prioritisation of communities across the region to engage in place-based health planning processes in Phase Two of the project. Further consultation will be undertaken with local stakeholders in the prioritised communities to co-select three to four communities to participate in Phase Two.

In this phase, place-based planning with the communities will involve co-design, implementation and evaluation of new or modified models of care. Impacts and outcomes of the project will be evaluated in terms of quality of care, efficiency, service provider and consumer satisfaction, and process acceptability and sustainability.

project phases

Northern Queensland Health Atlas

The Northern Queensland Health Atlas was created through the collation and mapping of publicly available data. It visually displays population and health data, services available and workforce information. It allows the selection of various indicators which can be overlayed to visualise where there may be unmet need or gaps in services or workforce. Explore the Atlas here.

Project Communities

The following communities are participating in the place-based planning process through Phase Two of the project:

Project Partners

Project Partners

Western Queensland Primary Health Network

Queensland Aboriginal and Islander Health Council

Queensland Health Office of Rural and Remote Health

National Rural Health Commissioner

Northern Territory Department of Health

The Rural Clinical School of Western Australia

Cooperative Research Centre for Developing Northern Australia

Tropical Australian Academic Health Centre Partners

  • Cairns and Hinterland Hospital and Health Service
  • Mackay Hospital and Health Service
  • North Queensland Primary Health Network
  • North West Hospital and Health Service
  • Torres and Cape Hospital and Health Service
  • Townsville Hospital and Health Service
  • James Cook University / Australian Institute of Tropical Health and Medicine 

Project Funding

Funding for the Project has been received from the Cooperative Research Centre for Developing Northern Australia (CRCNA), which is part of the Australian Government's Cooperative Research Centre Program (CRCP), with a financial contribution from Tropical Australian Academic Health Centre (TAAHC), and in-kind contributions from Project partners.


For more information, please email [email protected] or contact:


Dr Deb Smith

Project Manager, James Cook University

07 4781 6861 or [email protected]


Professor Sarah Larkins

Lead Investigator, James Cook University

07 4781 3139 or [email protected]