12 December 2022

Professor Harriet Hiscock is a paediatrician researcher at the Murdoch Children's Research Institute. Her work focuses on keeping children out of hospital, reducing low value care, and improving access to and quality of care – especially mental health care.  

Professor Hiscock has always been passionate about helping children to ensure they have the best start to life. One in 5 children are affected by behavioural and developmental problems, yet many of these problems go undetected and untreated.  

Recent statistics show that only nine to 27% of children with mental health problems access Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS)-rebated care. Girls, younger children and those from more disadvantaged families or families speaking a language other than English are even less likely to receive care.1

Professor Hiscock’s NHMRC Career Development Fellowship grant focused on developing and trialling brief and tailored interventions to improve sleep in children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (Sleeping Sound with ADHD) and autism (Sleeping Sound with Autism). The trials involved two face-to-face consultations with a paediatrician or psychologist and a follow-up phone call.  

Professor Hiscock explained how sleep is essential for all of us, but in children with ADHD or autism, missing out on a good night’s sleep can worsen their behaviour and their emotional symptoms. For children with ADHD, their focus, concentration and learning in the school setting can suffer due to a lack of sleep. 

'A lack of sleep will impact their social and emotional regulation, their behaviour, and their quality of life,' Professor Hiscock said.

'After two sessions and a phone call they were seeing improvements in their child’s sleep, which had flow-on benefits to the parents’ mental health. The parents would say how the whole family is functioning better, that they were a happier household, and their child is happier to get up and go to school'.

Both the trials were hugely successful, the children loved being a part of it and the parents really liked it too because it did not involve any medication.

Professor Hiscock said that seeing her fellow colleagues being able to grasp this intervention and incorporate it into their day-to-day clinical work was a huge success.

'As a practitioner you can help one person at a time, one child, one family. But when you do trials, you are helping hundreds of kids at a time.

'Health services research is where you can hopefully change a system, so you are helping thousands at a time.'

Professor Hiscock is now driven to make changes at a system level by directing her focus to health services research, with a particular interest in mental health.

Photo of Professor Hiscock wearing a green top with a blurred background

Next steps

Professor Hiscock and her team have commenced several research programs including developing integrated health and social care hubs that offer social, medical and allied health services. These hubs will help to support children and their families by earlier detection and response to social determinants of mental health.

Another program is placing paediatricians in general practices to improve GP confidence and competence in the care of children. This trial aims to keep children out of hospital and improve parental preference for GP care. Paediatricians are supporting the GPs to be proactive and provide timely solutions in an area of medicine where waiting lists to see a specialist can be 6 to 12 months.

CIA
Professor Harriet Hiscock
Institution
Murdoch Children's Research Institute
Title
Improving child health outcomes in common, high burden conditions
Team members
Associate Professor Emma Sciberras
Dr Melissa Mulraney
Associate Professor Daryl Efron
Ms Kate Paton
Associate Professor Kim Dalziel
Ms Rachel Neely
Ms Rachel Pelly
Dr Shaoke Lei
Grant information
$279,896
2014-2017
Career Development Fellowship
Featured image Credit
Photo supplied by: Professor Harriet Hiscock

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