Outstanding achievements in research translation

2 December 2020

Congratulations to Professor Michele Sterling and the Improving health outcomes after musculoskeletal injury team for winning a Health and Behavioural Sciences Faculty Research Translation Award. The Research Translation Award recognises the efforts of a researcher from HaBS who has ensured that their research is translated into benefits for the broader community beyond academia. The award recipient will have demonstrated impact, innovation, and initiative in developing a new product or service or making changes to practice or policy, based on research outcomes.

Professor Michele Sterling

Professor Sterling has led the development of a suite of initiatives to translate her research findings and improve the assessment, treatment and health outcomes of people with musculoskeletal road traffic injury (RTI).  The resources were developed for patients, health care providers and treatment funders (compulsory third party insurance and government insurance regulators). Details of the resources are outlined below.

Professor Sterling’s research has created a paradigm shift in the way road traffic injuries are assessed and treated. Her work is included in Clinical Guidelines in Australia, North America and Europe. Her clinical risk-screening/assessment tools have been adopted by four state government insurance regulators (treatment funders) in Qld, NSW, Victoria and South Australia, who recommended use to clinicians. WhipPredict is endorsed by the Australian Physiotherapy Association adopted by 75% of Qld physiotherapists (survey 2019).

As a result of Professor Sterling’s research, the practice of physiotherapists and insurers has been shown to be improved through the assessment of early risk-factors and greater adherence to guideline recommended care1. Impact extends beyond the clinical field by inclusion in Medico-legal Guidelines2 and has informed the UK government on the management of whiplash injury due to escalating costs associated with fraudulent claims3. Her research of prognostic indictors and risk-assessment are included in MedCo online education platform introduced by the UK government to train and accredit independent medical examiners in the assessment of minor road traffic injury (medco.org.uk).

The resources

Professor Sterling has led on the development of the following resources for patients, health care providers and treatment funders:

1. A risk-screening tool (WhipPredict) for the assessment of people with acute whiplash injury was developed as an outcome of two inception cohort studies (ARC funded). WhipPredict shows high accuracy to identify people at risk of poor recovery as well as those who will recover well. Professor Sterling led the development of a digital version of WhipPredict (available on RECOVER website) which automatically calculates the risk classification making it easy and quick for use in the clinic. A recent survey found that 75% of Qld physiotherapists use the tool. It has also been implemented by government injury insurance regulators in Qld (Motor Accident Insurance Commission -MAIC) and Victoria (Transport Accident Commission-TAC) where they recommend its use by clinicians. It is endorsed by the Australian Physiotherapy Association and recommended by Physiopedia, a UK not for profit educational organisation partnered with World Physiotherapy and used by over 1 million physiotherapists per month worldwide. WhipPredict has been translated into Danish and Icelandic.   

2. The development of a clinical pathway of care based on the results of WhipPredict. Patients identified as likely to recover well receive minimal treatment of a few session of physiotherapy (thereby minimising overtreatment). Those identified at-risk of poor recovery require further assessment of psychosocial risk factors and more concerted treatments. This care pathway and resources for patients (e.g video descriptions of exercises) and clinicians (assessment tools and recommended treatment options) were integrated into an interactive on-line resource My Whiplash Navigator (mywhiplash.com.au).  This resource has been implemented by government regulators in four states (MAIC, TAC, State Regulatory Authority NSW, and South Australia CTP in their SA CTP Framework For Injury Recovery and Early Intervention). It was developed in collaboration with colleagues at the University of Sydney.   

Whiplash injury recovery guide
3. Professor Sterling co-led three editions of the patient resource: Whiplash Injury Recovery: a Self-Help Guide published by MAIC, the most recent edition published in 2019. The booklet provides information about whiplash, what to expect and includes evidence based exercises and strategies such as stress management, shown to be effective in clinical trials led by me. The booklet is distributed by Qld Emergency Departments and primary care practices.  According to MAIC data, over 17000 hard copies have been distributed. The number of copies directly downloaded is not available. The booklet is available on the websites of government regulators in Qld, NSW, SA and Victoria.     

More information about Professor Sterling

Professor Michele Sterling is currently the Program Lead for the Improving health outcomes after musculoskeletal injury program at RECOVER Injury Research Centre, The University of Queensland.  Her main focuses of research are: the mechanisms underlying the transition from acute to chronic pain; prediction of outcome following injury; developing and testing new treatments to prevent chronic pain and the translation of research findings to clinical practice. Professor Sterling has led over 10 large clinical trials, the majority of which were NHMRC funded. She has published >200 papers which have been cited over 10,500 times. Her H-Index is 53 and she is ranked the world’s leading researcher in the area of whiplash injury (Expertscape, 2020).


1.         Oostendorp RA, Elvers H, van Trijffel E, et al. Has the quality of physiotherapy care in patients with Whiplash-associated disorders (WAD) improved over time? A retrospective study using routinely collected data and quality indicators. Patient preference and adherence 2018; 12: 2291-308.

2.         Ferrara SD, Ananian V, Baccino E, et al. Whiplash-Associated Disorders : Clinical and medico-legal guidelines on the methods of ascertainment. International journal of legal medicine 2016; 130(1): 13-22.

3.         Cost of motor insurance. Fourth report of session 2013-2014; Volume 1:pg8. London: The House of Commons, 2013.