Delivering Evidence-based Preventative Health Strategies And Support to People with Asthma and their Carers [Interview][Transcript]

Mark_Brooke_Asthma_AustraliaGuest: Mark Brooke
Presenter: Wayne Bucklar
Guest Bio: Mark Brooke is CEO of Asthma Australia Inc. He commenced in April 2013 following 3 and a half years as CEO of Asthma Foundation Queensland where he led the reform to what is now regarded as a highly relevant, patient-focused and sustainable health charity. As a not-for-profit careerist with over 20 years senior management experience, he has served as CEO of Playgroup Queensland and in key leadership roles in Police Youth Clubs NSW and Queensland, leading these multi-faceted award winning organisations through highly complex corporate restructures. Mark has qualifications in business, is a Fellow of the Australian Institute of Management and has a strong personal commitment to young people issues. Mark is sought out for his comprehensive understanding of not-for-profit governance, workforce development strategies (particularly work/life balance) and organisation reform. He volunteers for two local charities and sports clubs.

Segment overview: In today’s Health Supplier Segment, Asthma Australia CEO Mark Brooke is here to share with us the organization’s projects as well as research developments on asthma health care and research. They offer support, training and resources to the primary health care sector. When treatment is required they ensure patients and their carers have the skills, information and power to be actively engaged in the decision making process. They fund vital basic science and population health research contributing to national and international understandings of asthma and how best to manage the disease. They have offices and staff in every State and Territory of Australia. They strive to improve the quality of life for people with asthma by providing accessible, affordable and evidence-based services.


Health Professional Radio

Wayne Bucklar: You’re listening to Health Professional Radio with Wayne Bucklar. Today my guest is Mark Brooke. Mark is the Chief Executive Officer of Asthma Australia and joins us from Brisbane, Australia. Mark welcome to Health Professional Radio.

Mark Brooke: Thank you Wayne.

W: Now Mark Asthma Australia I guess is a not-for-profit association committed to asthma, but why don’t you tell us the story?

M: So Asthma Australia is a national health charity that works through each state and territories Asthma Foundation here in Australia. And our role is to support our people with asthma, so they can reduce the burden of asthma on their lives or on the life of a person they’re caring for. And our organization is now over 50 years old and we’ve been providing resources and support through a whole range of mechanisms to hundreds of thousands of Australians that have asthma.

W: Asthma is an incredibly common disease, isn’t it?

M: Yeah look, asthma impacts or roughly 1 in 10 Australians or nearly 2.3 million people. And like all chronic illnesses, it has a far reaching and profound impact even when it’s mild. It impacts upon the lives of many, many Australians, particularly impacts on the lives of aboriginal Australians who are more prone to live with chronic disease and particularly respiratory illnesses. So I’m very conscious of the fact as an organization that we need to focus in on Australians who are more vulnerable, so that includes aboriginal Australian people or those who live in rural or remote communities right across Australia or over continent.

W: And to some extent for people who never suffered from asthma, it often looks like a relatively mild ailment. But I think it can be life threatening in some circumstances, can it?

M: Yeah, that’s right Wayne. Look, I think there are a couple of common myths about asthma as a chronic condition. And one certainly is that asthma impacts upon a significant proportion of the population. And while some majority of Australians are over 75% will have mild asthma, we know that even mild asthma – poorly controlled and poorly managed – can result in heart aching consequences. All too frequently, we know from hospitalization records right across the country and from our recent studies that many asthma deaths are preventable. And whilst asthma deaths in young children are quite rare, sadly deaths in older Australians those over 65 are quite concerning.

W: I had no idea, I guess I’m not a clinician either but Mark 95% of our audience are clinicians of one kind or another. We get both acute care and aged care as the commonest groups who listens to us. Is there a take away message for them that you’d like to get across today?

M: Look, yes there’s a couple of take away message. I think asthma is treated in primary healthcare in the majority of instances. So GP’s, primary healthcare nurses, and pharmacists, and indeed our colleagues in aged care have a really important role in understanding asthma and its comorbidities – COPD, bronchiectasis for children and so forth. So for us it’s really important that my take home message to all our health professionals is that asthma continues to be a significant burden on the lives of those whose asthma is out of control. And research released this year, a study call the Air Supply Study has shown that there is a disconnect between health professionals’ understanding of asthma. So patients being well and well controlled and what the patient sees as being well controlled and I’ve been preview to a number of studies and interviews where you can see a person with asthma, “Well so my asthma is well controlled” but when we apply the asthma controlled test in fact they’re waking 2 or 3 times at night, they’re over using their reliever medications, they’re not complying with their asthma management plan. And it’s vital that our colleagues in primary healthcare absolutely adopt asthma management plans as best practice. Research is leading us down the road into phenotyping and that asthma is not one condition, and that we would have targeted treatments and intervention – the right treatment at the right time for the right person. But that’s some way off at the moment Wayne and I think as a chronic illness managed the community, GP’s, pharmacist, nurses have a vital role in making sure that patients are self-managing their condition. My take home message is if everyone is taking their preventive medications who are mild and moderate, we would see substantial reductions in asthma mortality and hospitalizations in Australia.

W: That’s a significant message to try and get across, and I guess a common sense message but clearly one that hasn’t made it through to everyday practice.

M: Look yeah, I am surprised. If we take the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare Research, with the maximum number of Australians with an asthma management plan or an asthma action plan is 20%. Now when we think about Australia having a world class health system, a relatively high proportion of our population with good health literacy and access to affordable medications, we have through our colleagues at the National Asthma Council, World Class Asthma Management Guidelines which say: number, 1 let’s give every patient an asthma action plan and take the time to explain it to them. And when I was going to school in university, 20% was never going to be asthma, and I think we all need to lift our game both as a not for profit in Asthma Australia, primary healthcare and even in the tertiary health system. We need to lift our game and match with it at least every patient. Every patient has an asthma action plan that they understand and that we take the time to explain why that’s important and give people the skills necessary to manage their condition.

W: Mark is there a common misconception that drive you nuts and keep you awake at night?

M: I’m always surprised whenever I talk to political leaders or policy maker or even some of my colleagues in the health sector, is that asthma is a thing of the past. “Asthma is old, you know.” I think Australia has a remarkably proud track record in asthma mortality, that the late 70’s and 80’s when we were seeing significant spikes in asthma deaths around this country, the introduction of preventive medications, the introduction of guidelines has seen that number get below 400. And I think that’s a really proud achievement for Australia. But the fact that we still have and this is the contrast, this is the sort of contradiction I find in asthma – the fact that we have a world class, first world Health System, access to medications for the majority of Australia – the fact that we have World Class Guidelines but still people are reporting poorly controlled asthma. So there is a disconnect there, between the complexity of the problem and what’s happening. And recently our colleagues in the research who have put out a call to action to change the way in which we think about asthma and how it’s treated and we endorse that. We think we need to looking forward, move to the right treatment to the right person at the right time. But as a population, we need to do better we still can’t forget our population health and primary healthcare strategies, that of like immunization, or like heart, or stroke are vitally important in making sure that every Australian has access to the right and most appropriate care, particularly those with asthma.

W: Mark it’s been a pleasure having you here with me today. Your passion for the topic is clear and ringing out, and maybe we can help dispel a little bit of that misconception with our audience as a result of having you on the program today. What’s the best way for people to get more information?

M: Look, I think Wayne our website is one of the leading and most trusted websites in the world. We look at where people come from to the Asthma Australia website, and about 80% of our audience comes from within Australia but 20% is scattered all over the world. So I think if people want to know more about managing their asthma or indeed working proactively with their patients, then I encourage them to go to or sign up for one of our either health professional newsletters or E-newsletters or research newsletters. That way we can keep in touch with you and let what’s happening across the asthma and respiratory conditions sector. But recently we’ve just launched all of our patient … brochures as iBooks. And people can go to iBook store and download a full suite of resources for free and I watched the lovely process the other day where one of our ward nurses in a hospital had our material on her iPad and was able to walk a patient through a video on device technique then and there and that actually is an unexpected advantage of the digital age. So by all means, I’d encourage people to look if they work in the eye space download those resources and give us the feedback. As an organization we thrive on constructive feedback, so I’d welcome that Wayne.

W: Thanks mark. My guest today has been Mark Brooke, CEO of Asthma Australia. And if you’ve missed my chat with Mark there is good news, we have a transcript on our website at or you can listen to an audio archive of the entire interview on both YouTube or SoundCloud and we have links to both of those on our website. My name is Wayne Bucklar, you’re listening to Health Professional Radio.

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