Professor Chris Baggoley AO – First among equals

Australia’s Chief Medical Officer, Professor Chris Baggoley AO, enrolled in the Flinders postgraduate medical program in 1974 after completing a degree in veterinary science, deciding that his destiny lay in human health care.

After a stellar career in diverse corners of the health universe, Professor Baggoley was appointed Chief Medical Officer in 2011 and quickly had to come to terms with the contradictions between a public afflicted by epidemics of non-communicable diseases such as obesity and heart disease, but primarily engaged in concern over relatively rare communicable diseases, such as Ebola and new forms of influenza.

“New forms of infection tend to capture the public’s imagination and while they are important, it is essential to keep perspective and a balance in the way we focus on health priorities,” Professor Baggoley said.

“Communication is critically important in health care, but it’s not just about telling. It’s about finding better ways to educate people so they understand.

“We all look up Google when we have got a problem or think we have got a health problem – that’s just the way of the world – and there is an unprecedented amount of information available to us, both good and bad information.

“However, our health literacy – our understanding of that information – is not at a strong level.

“In health care we have tended to take for granted that people understand the information we give them, but they often don’t; so improved communication is essential for medical professionals.”

Professor Baggoley is leading by example, regularly briefing the most senior figures in government on new and emerging health threats.

“We shouldn’t downplay the threat that new diseases can pose,” he said.  “But we also need to improve health literacy and understanding across the board, to help Australians enjoy a healthier future.”

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