Paper-based Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health checks have promoted a preventive approach to primary care and provided data to support research at the Inala Indigenous Health Service, south-west Brisbane, Australia. Concerns about the limitations of paper-based health checks prompted us to change to a computerised system to realise potential benefits for clinical services and research capability. We describe the rationale, implementation and anticipated benefits of computerised Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health checks in one primary health care setting.
In May 2010, the Inala Indigenous Health Service commenced a project to computerise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander child, adult, diabetic, and antenatal health checks. The computerised health checks were launched in September 2010 and then evaluated for staff satisfaction, research consent rate and uptake. Ethical approval for health check data to be used for research purposes was granted in December 2010.
Three months after the September 2010 launch date, all but two health checks (378 out of 380, 99.5%) had been completed using the computerised system. Staff gave the system a median mark of 8 out of 10 (range 5-9), where 10 represented the highest level of overall satisfaction. By September 2011, 1099 child and adult health checks, 138 annual diabetic checks and 52 of the newly introduced antenatal checks had been completed. These numbers of computerised health checks are greater than for the previous year (2010) of paper-based health checks with a risk difference of 0.07 (95% confidence interval 0.05, 0.10). Additionally, two research projects based on computerised health check data were underway.
The Inala Indigenous Health Service has demonstrated that moving from paper-based Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health checks to a system using computerised health checks is feasible and can facilitate research. We expect computerised health checks will improve clinical care and continue to enable research projects using validated data, reflecting the local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community’s priorities.
Computerised medical record systems; Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health; Primary health care
In this paper I will describe some of the sentinel events in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health policy and strategy during 2003 and the early part of 2004. This will involve discussion on the:
• National Strategic Framework in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health
• National Strategic Framework for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples Mental Health and Social and Emotional Well Being 2004–2009
• National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Performance Framework
• The roll-out of the Primary Health Care Access Program
• The National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey and the National Indigenous Health Survey
These developments are consistent with a policy agenda that has evolved, in general terms, since the release of the National Aboriginal Health Strategy in 1989. However, I will also consider significant developments in the broader context for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander affairs, particularly the decision made in early 2004 by the Howard government to abolish the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC). While the key events and developments that are reported in this paper elaborate on an agenda that has been developing for more than a decade, the decision to abolish ATSIC is likely to have a revolutionary impact on the future development of Aboriginal health strategy.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are under-reported in administrative health datasets in NSW, Australia. Correct reporting of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples is essential to measure the effectiveness of policies and programmes aimed at reducing the health disadvantage experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. This study investigates the potential of record linkage to enhance reporting of deaths among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in NSW, Australia.
Australian Bureau of Statistics death registration data for 2007 were linked with four population health datasets relating to hospitalisations, emergency department attendances and births. Reporting of deaths was enhanced from linked records using two methods, and effects on patterns of demographic characteristics and mortality indicators were examined.
Reporting of deaths increased by 34.5% using an algorithm based on a weight of evidence of a person being Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander, and by 56.6% using an approach based on 'at least one report' of a person being Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander. The increase was relatively greater in older persons and those living in less geographically remote areas. Enhancement resulted in a reduction in the urban-remote differential in median age at death and increases in standardised mortality ratios particularly for chronic conditions.
Record linkage creates a statistical construct that helps to correct under-reporting of deaths and potential bias in mortality statistics for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
It is estimated that the prevalence of mental illness is higher in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adolescents compared to non-Aboriginal adolescents. Despite this, only a small proportion of Aboriginal youth have contact with mental health services, possibly due to factors such as remoteness, language barriers, affordability and cultural sensitivity issues. This research aimed to develop culturally appropriate guidelines for anyone who is providing first aid to an Australian Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander adolescent who is experiencing a mental health crisis or developing a mental illness.
A panel of Australian Aboriginal people who are experts in Aboriginal youth mental health, participated in a Delphi study investigating how members of the public can be culturally appropriate when helping an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander adolescent with mental health problems. The panel varied in size across the three sequential rounds, from 37–41 participants. Panellists were presented with statements about cultural considerations and communication strategies via online questionnaires and were encouraged to suggest additional content. All statements endorsed as either Essential or Important by ≥ 90% of panel members were written into a guideline document. To assess the panel members’ satisfaction with the research method, participants were invited to provide their feedback after the final survey.
From a total of 304 statements shown to the panel of experts, 194 statements were endorsed. The methodology was found to be useful and appropriate by the panellists.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Youth mental health experts were able to reach consensus about what the appropriate communication strategies for providing mental health first aid to an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adolescent. These outcomes will help ensure that the community provides the best possible support to Aboriginal adolescents who are developing mental illnesses or are in a mental health crisis.
Aboriginal; Torres Strait Islander; Adolescent; Youth; Mental illness; Mental health; Communication; Delphi method; Expert consensus; Community guidelines
Ethnic minority groups are under-represented in mental health care services because of barriers such as poor mental health literacy. In 2007, the Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) program implemented a cultural adaptation of its first aid course to improve the capacity of Indigenous Australians to recognise and respond to mental health issues within their own communities. It became apparent that the content of this training would be improved by the development of best practice guidelines. This research aimed to develop culturally appropriate guidelines for providing first aid to an Australian Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person who is experiencing a mental health crisis or developing a mental illness.
A panel of Australian Aboriginal people who are experts in Aboriginal mental health, participated in six independent Delphi studies investigating depression, psychosis, suicidal thoughts and behaviours, deliberate self-injury, trauma and loss, and cultural considerations. The panel varied in size across the studies, from 20-24 participants. Panellists were presented with statements about possible first aid actions via online questionnaires and were encouraged to suggest additional actions not covered by the survey content. Statements were accepted for inclusion in a guideline if they were endorsed by ≥ 90% of panellists as essential or important. Each study developed one guideline from the outcomes of three Delphi questionnaire rounds. At the end of the six Delphi studies, participants were asked to give feedback on the value of the project and their participation experience.
From a total of 1,016 statements shown to the panel of experts, 536 statements were endorsed (94 for depression, 151 for psychosis, 52 for suicidal thoughts and behaviours, 53 for deliberate self-injury, 155 for trauma and loss, and 31 for cultural considerations). The methodology and the guidelines themselves were found to be useful and appropriate by the panellists.
Aboriginal mental health experts were able to reach consensus about culturally appropriate first aid for mental illness. The Delphi consensus method could be useful more generally for consulting Indigenous peoples about culturally appropriate best practice in mental health services.
Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples (Indigenous Australians) smoke at much higher rates than non-Indigenous people and smoking is an important contributor to increased disease, hospital admissions and deaths in Indigenous Australian populations. Smoking cessation programs in Australia have not had the same impact on Indigenous smokers as on non-Indigenous smokers. This paper describes the outcome of a study that aimed to test the efficacy of a locally-tailored, intensive, multidimensional smoking cessation program.
A randomised controlled trial of Aboriginal researcher delivered tailored smoking cessation counselling during face-to-face visits, aiming for weekly for the first four weeks, monthly to six months and two monthly to 12 months. The control (“usual care”) group received routine care relating to smoking cessation at their local primary health care service. Data collection occurred at enrolment, six and 12 months. The primary outcome was self-reported smoking cessation with urinary cotinine confirmation at final follow-up (median 13 (interquartile range 12–15) months after enrolment).
Participants in the intervention (n = 55) and usual care (n = 108) groups were similar in baseline characteristics, except the intervention group was slightly older. At final follow-up the smoking cessation rate for participants assigned to the intervention group (n = 6; 11%), while not statistically significant, was double that of usual care (n = 5; 5%; p = 0.131). A meta-analysis of these findings and a similarly underpowered but comparable study of pregnant Indigenous Australian women showed that Indigenous Australian participants assigned to the intervention groups were 2.4 times (95% CI, 1.01-5.5) as likely to quit as participants assigned to usual care.
Culturally appropriate, multi-dimensional Indigenous quit smoking programs can be successfully implemented in remote primary health care. Intensive one-on-one interventions with substantial involvement from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander workers are likely to be effective in these settings.
Australian New Zealand Clinical Trials Registry (ACTRN12608000604303).
Indigenous; Aboriginal; Torres Strait Islander; Randomised controlled trial; Smoking cessation; Be Our Ally Beat Smoking (BOABS) Study
This article outlines the meaningful participation of eight Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community members employed as community researchers investigating the impact of pandemic influenza in rural and remote Indigenous communities in Australia. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander participation is now a requirement of health research involving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. There is a growing literature on the different approaches to such involvement. Fundamental to this literature is an acknowledgement that Indigenous communities are no longer prepared to be research objects for external, mostly non-Indigenous researchers, and demand a role in decisions about what is researched and how it will be researched. In this paper, we describe the protracted process for site identification and recruitment and training of community researchers. We focus on the backgrounds of the Indigenous researchers and their motivations for involvement, and the strengths and challenges posed by Indigenous people researching in their own communities. Throughout the paper our concern is to document how genuine participation and the building of research capacity can occur.
A key feature of the research was the employment, training and strengthening the capacity of local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community members in the role of community researchers. A series of training workshops were conducted in northern Australia and focussed on qualitative research methods, including data collection, data analysis and writing. The Indigenous researchers collected the community-based data, and worked in partnership with experienced academic researchers in the analysis and compilation of community reports. Parts of those community reports, as well as additional information supplied by the community researchers, forms the basis of this article. As the demand increases for involvement of Indigenous community members as researchers, focus needs to be paid to what constitutes meaningful participation. If active participation in all aspects of the research process is intended, this necessitates close attention to the knowledge and skills required for this to occur at every stage. Building research capacity means not simply equipping local people to undertake research on a particular project, but to have the knowledge and skills to undertake research in other areas.
There are considerable benefits for Indigenous people researching in their own communities. Most important for the community researchers on this project was the sense that they were doing important health work, not just conducting research. Given the persistent gaps between Indigenous and non-Indigenous health, this is perhaps one of the most important contributions of this type of research. Whilst research outcomes are undoubtedly important, in many cases the process used is of greater importance.
Indigenous; Participatory action research; Aboriginal; Torres Strait Islander; Participation
Disseminating national health and alcohol policies to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Australia has been a challenging task for governments and public servants. This has been for a number of reasons, including the enduring (negative) legacy of past “Aboriginal affairs” policies, the fact that Indigenous health programmes and alcohol programmes have been treated separately since the 1970s, and a more recent context in which the recognition of cultural difference was privileged. Confronted with the politics of difference, health departments were slow to examine avenues through which best practice advice emanating from WHO, and alcohol policies such as harm minimisation and early identification and treatment in primary health care, could be communicated in culturally recognisable ways to independent Indigenous services. In addition, there was hostility towards harm minimisation policies from Indigenous service providers, and Indigenous treatment programmes remained largely committed to abstinence‐oriented modalities and the disease model of alcoholism, despite moves away from these approaches in the mainstream. However, genuinely innovative acute interventions and environmental controls over alcohol have been developed by Indigenous community‐based organisations, approaches that are reinforced by international policy research evidence.
Indigenous people; alcohol policy; public health policy
Published estimates of Aboriginal mortality and life expectancy (LE) for the eastern Australian states are derived from demographic modelling techniques to estimate the population and extent of under-recording of Aboriginality in death registration. No reliable empirical information on Aboriginal mortality and LE exists for New South Wales (NSW), the most populous Australian state in which 29% of Aboriginal people reside.
This paper estimates mortality and LE in a large, mainly metropolitan cohort of Aboriginal clients from the Aboriginal Medical Service (AMS) Redfern, Sydney, NSW.
Identifying information from patient records accrued by the AMS Redfern since 1980 of definitely Aboriginal clients, without distinction between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (n=24,035), was extracted and linked to the National Death Index (NDI) at the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW). Age-specific mortality rates and LEs for each sex were estimated using the AMS patient population as the denominator, discounted for deaths. Directly age-standardised mortality and LEs were estimated for 1995–1999, 2000–2004 and 2005–2009, along with 95% confidence intervals. Comparisons were made with other estimates of Aboriginal mortality and LE and with the total Australian population.
Mortality declined in the AMS Redfern cohort over 1995–2009, and the decline occurred mostly in the ≤44 year age range. Male LE at birth was estimated to be 64.4 years (95%CI:62.6-66.1) in 1995–1999, 65.6 years (95%CI:64.1-67.1) in 2000–2004, and 67.6 years (95%CI:65.9-69.2) for 2005–2009. In females, these LE estimates were 69.6 (95%CI:68.0-71.2), 71.1 (95%CI:69.9-72.4), and 71.4 (95%CI:70.0-72.8) years. LE in the AMS cohort was 11 years lower for males and 12 years lower for females than corresponding all-Australia LEs for the same periods. These were similar to estimates for Australian Aboriginal people overall for the same period by the Aboriginal Burden of Disease for 2009, using the General Growth Balance (GGB) model approach, and by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) for 2005–2007. LE in the AMS cohort was somewhat lower than these estimates for NSW Aboriginal people, and higher than ABS 2005–2007 estimates for Aboriginal people from Northern Territory, South Australia, and Western Australia.
The AMS Redfern cohort has provided the first empirically based estimates of mortality and LE trends in a large sample of Aboriginal people from NSW.
Australian Aboriginal peoples and Torres Strait Islanders (Indigenous Australians) smoke at much higher rates than non-Indigenous people and smoking is an important contributor to increased disease, hospital admissions and deaths in Indigenous Australian populations. Smoking cessation programs in Australia have not had the same impact on Indigenous smokers as on non-Indigenous smokers. This paper describes the protocol for a study that aims to test the efficacy of a locally-tailored, intensive, multidimensional smoking cessation program.
This study is a parallel, randomised, controlled trial. Participants are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander smokers aged 16 years and over, who are randomly allocated to a 'control' or 'intervention' group in a 2:1 ratio. Those assigned to the 'intervention' group receive smoking cessation counselling at face-to-face visits, weekly for the first four weeks, monthly to six months and two monthly to 12 months. They are also encouraged to attend a monthly smoking cessation support group. The 'control' group receive 'usual care' (i.e. they do not receive the smoking cessation program). Aboriginal researchers deliver the intervention, the goal of which is to help Aboriginal peoples and Torres Strait Islanders quit smoking. Data collection occurs at baseline (when they enrol) and at six and 12 months after enrolling. The primary outcome is self-reported smoking cessation with urinary cotinine confirmation at 12 months.
Stopping smoking has been described as the single most important individual change Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander smokers could make to improve their health. Smoking cessation programs are a major priority in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health and evidence for effective approaches is essential for policy development and resourcing. A range of strategies have been used to encourage Aboriginal peoples and Torres Strait Islanders to quit smoking however there have been few good quality studies that show what approaches work best. More evidence of strategies that could work more widely in Indigenous primary health care settings is needed if effective policy is to be developed and implemented. Our project will make an important contribution in this area.
Australian New Zealand Clinical Trials Registry (ACTRN12608000604303)
Indigenous; Aboriginal; Torres Strait Islander; Randomised controlled trial; Smoking cessation; Study protocol; Be Our Ally Beat Smoking (BOABS) Study
Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the single greatest contributor to the gap in life expectancy between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. Our objective is to determine if holistic CVD risk assessment, introduced as part of the new Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Adult Health Check (AHC), results in better identification of elevated CVD risk, improved delivery of preventive care for CVD and improvements in the CVD risk profile for Aboriginal adults in a remote community.
Interrupted time series study over six years in a remote primary health care (PHC) service involving Aboriginal adults identified with elevated CVD risk (N = 64). Several process and outcome measures were audited at 6 monthly intervals for three years prior to the AHC (the intervention) and three years following: (i) the proportion of guideline scheduled CVD preventive care services delivered, (ii) mean CVD medications prescribed and dispensed, (iii) mean PHC consultations, (iv) changes in participants' CVD risk factors and estimated absolute CVD risk and (v) mean number of CVD events and iatrogenic events.
Twenty-five percent of AHC participants were identified as having elevated CVD risk. Of these, 84% had not been previously identified during routine care. Following the intervention, there were significant improvements in the recorded delivery of preventive care services for CVD (30% to 53%), and prescription of CVD related medications (28% to 89%) (P < 0.001). Amongst participants there was a 20% relative reduction in estimated absolute CVD risk (P = 0.004) following the intervention. However, there were no significant changes in the mean number of PHC consultations or mean number of CVD events or iatrogenic events.
Holistic CVD risk assessment during an AHC can lead to better and earlier identification of elevated CVD risk, improvement in the recorded delivery of preventive care services for CVD, intensification of treatment for CVD, and improvements in participants' CVD risk profile. Further research is required on strategies to reorient and restructure PHC services to the care of chronic illness for Aboriginal peoples in remote areas for there to be substantial progress in decreasing excess CVD related mortality.
Australia's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (Indigenous) populations have disproportionately high rates of adverse perinatal outcomes relative to other Australians. Poorer access to good quality maternal health care is a key driver of this disparity. The aim of this study was to describe patterns of delivery of maternity care and service gaps in primary care services in Australian Indigenous communities.
We undertook a cross-sectional baseline audit for a quality improvement intervention. Medical records of 535 women from 34 Indigenous community health centres in five regions (Top End of Northern Territory 13, Central Australia 2, Far West New South Wales 6, Western Australia 9, and North Queensland 4) were audited. The main outcome measures included: adherence to recommended protocols and procedures in the antenatal and postnatal periods including: clinical, laboratory and ultrasound investigations; screening for gestational diabetes and Group B Streptococcus; brief intervention/advice on health-related behaviours and risks; and follow up of identified health problems.
The proportion of women presenting for their first antenatal visit in the first trimester ranged from 34% to 49% between regions; consequently, documentation of care early in pregnancy was poor. Overall, documentation of routine antenatal investigations and brief interventions/advice regarding health behaviours varied, and generally indicated that these services were underutilised. For example, 46% of known smokers received smoking cessation advice/counselling; 52% of all women received antenatal education and 51% had investigation for gestational diabetes. Overall, there was relatively good documentation of follow up of identified problems related to hypertension or diabetes, with over 70% of identified women being referred to a GP/Obstetrician.
Participating services had both strengths and weaknesses in the delivery of maternal health care. Increasing access to evidence-based screening and health information (most notably around smoking cessation) were consistently identified as opportunities for improvement across services.
Australian federal and jurisdictional governments are implementing ambitious policy initiatives intended to improve health care access and outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. In this qualitative study we explored Aboriginal Medical Service (AMS) staff views on factors needed to improve chronic care systems and assessed their relevance to the new policy environment.
Two theories informed the study: (1) ‘candidacy’, which explores “the ways in which people’s eligibility for care is jointly negotiated between individuals and health services”; and (2) kanyini or ‘holding’, a Central Australian philosophy which describes the principle and obligations of nurturing and protecting others. A structured health systems assessment, locally adapted from Chronic Care Model domains, was administered via group interviews with 37 health staff in six AMSs and one government Indigenous-led health service. Data were thematically analysed.
Staff emphasised AMS health care was different to private general practices. Consistent with kanyini, community governance and leadership, community representation among staff, and commitment to community development were important organisational features to retain and nurture both staff and patients. This was undermined, however, by constant fear of government funding for AMSs being withheld. Staff resourcing, information systems and high-level leadership were perceived to be key drivers of health care quality. On-site specialist services, managed by AMS staff, were considered an enabling strategy to increase specialist access. Candidacy theory suggests the above factors influence whether a service is ‘tractable’ and ‘navigable’ to its users. Staff also described entrenched patient discrimination in hospitals and the need to expend considerable effort to reinstate care. This suggests that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are still constructed as ‘non-ideal users’ and are denied from being ‘held’ by hospital staff.
Some new policy initiatives (workforce capacity strengthening, improving chronic care delivery systems and increasing specialist access) have potential to address barriers highlighted in this study. Few of these initiatives, however, capitalise on the unique mechanisms by which AMSs ‘hold’ their users and enhance their candidacy to health care. Kanyini and candidacy are promising and complementary theories for conceptualising health care access and provide a potential framework for improving systems of care.
In Australia, higher rates of chronic hepatitis B (HBsAg) have been reported among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (Indigenous) compared with non-Indigenous people. In 2000, the Australian government implemented a universal infant/adolescent hepatitis B vaccination program. We undertook a systematic review and meta-analysis to assess the disparity of HBsAg prevalence between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people, particularly since 2000.
We searched Medline, Embase and public health bulletins up to March 2011. We used meta-analysis methods to estimate HBsAg prevalence by Indigenous status and time period (before and since 2000).
There were 15 HBsAg prevalence estimates (from 12 studies) among Indigenous and non-Indigenous people; adults and pregnant women (n = 9), adolescents (n = 3), prisoners (n = 2), and infants (n = 1). Of these, only one subgroup (adults/pregnant women) involved studies before and since 2000 and formed the basis of the meta-analysis. Before 2000, the pooled HBsAg prevalence estimate was 6.47% (95% CI: 4.56-8.39); 16.72% (95%CI: 7.38-26.06) among Indigenous and 0.36% (95%CI:-0.14-0.86) in non-Indigenous adults/pregnant women. Since 2000, the pooled HBsAg prevalence was 2.25% (95% CI: 1.26-3.23); 3.96% (95%CI: 3.15-4.77) among Indigenous and 0.90% (95% CI: 0.53-1.28) in non-Indigenous adults/pregnant women.
The disparity of HBsAg prevalence between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people has decreased over time; particularly since the HBV vaccination program in 2000. However HBsAg prevalence remains four times higher among Indigenous compared with non-Indigenous people. The findings highlight the need for opportunistic HBV screening of Indigenous people to identify people who would benefit from vaccination or treatment.
Indigenous; HBV; Sexually transmissible infection; STI; Hepatitis
Diabetes mellitus is a serious and increasing health problem in Australia and is a designated national health priority. Diabetes and related conditions represent an even greater health burden among Indigenous Australians (Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders), but there are critical gaps in knowledge relating to the incidence and prevalence, aetiology, and prevention of diabetes in this group, including a lack of information on the burden of disease among Indigenous people in urban areas. The DRUID Study (Diabetes and Related conditions in Urban Indigenous people in the Darwin region) was designed to address this knowledge gap.
The study was conducted in a specified geographic area in and around Darwin, Australia. Eligible participants underwent a health examination, including collection of blood and urine samples, clinical and anthropometric measurements, and administration of questionnaires, with an additional assessment for people with diabetes. The study was designed to incorporate local Indigenous leadership, facilitate community engagement, and provide employment and training opportunities for local Indigenous people. A variety of recruitment methods were used. A total of 1,004 eligible people gave consent and provided at least one measurement. When compared with census data for the Indigenous population living in the study area, there was a marked under-representation of males, but no substantial differences in age, place of residence, Indigenous group, or household income. Early participants were more likely than later participants to have previously diagnosed diabetes.
Despite lower than anticipated recruitment, this is, to our knowledge, the largest study ever conducted on the health of Indigenous Australians living in urban areas, a group which comprises the majority of Australia's Indigenous population but about whose health and wellbeing relatively little is known. The study is well-placed to provide new information that can be used by policy makers and service providers to improve the delivery of services and programs that affect the health of Indigenous people. It also represents a valuable opportunity to establish an urban Indigenous cohort study, provided participants can be followed successfully over time.
Acute respiratory illness (ARI) is the most common cause of acute presentations and hospitalisations of young Indigenous children in Australia and New Zealand (NZ). Environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) from household smoking is a significant and preventable contributor to childhood ARI. This paper describes the protocol for a study which aims to test the efficacy of a family-centred tobacco control program about ETS to improve the respiratory health of Indigenous infants in Australia and New Zealand. For the purpose of this paper 'Indigenous' refers to Australia's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples when referring to Australian Indigenous populations. In New Zealand, the term 'Indigenous' refers to Māori.
This study will be a parallel, randomized, controlled trial. Participants will be Indigenous women and their infants, half of whom will be randomly allocated to an 'intervention' group, who will receive the tobacco control program over three home visits in the first three months of the infant's life and half to a control group receiving 'usual care' (i.e. they will not receive the tobacco control program). Indigenous health workers will deliver the intervention, the goal of which is to reduce or eliminate infant exposure to ETS. Data collection will occur at baseline (shortly after birth) and when the infant is four months and one year of age. The primary outcome is a doctor-diagnosed, documented case of respiratory illness in participating infants.
Interventions aimed at reducing exposure of Indigenous children to ETS have the potential for significant benefits for Indigenous communities. There is currently a dearth of evidence for the effect of tobacco control interventions to reduce children's exposure to ETS among Indigenous populations. This study will provide high-quality evidence of the efficacy of a family-centred tobacco control program on ETS to reduce respiratory illness. Outcomes of our study will be important and significant for Indigenous tobacco control in Australia and New Zealand and prevention of respiratory illness in children.
Australian New Zealand Clinical Trials Registry (ACTRN12609000937213)
Health Assessment (HA) items were introduced in 1999 for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged at least 55 years and all Australians aged over 75 years. In 2004 a new item was introduced for HAs among adult Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 15–54 years. The new item has been applauded as a major policy innovation however this enthusiasm has been tempered with concern about potential barriers to its uptake. In this study we aim to determine whether there are disparities in uptake of HA items for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people compared to other Australians.
The analysis was based on Health Insurance Commission data. Indigenous status was ascertained based on the item number used. Logistic regression was used to compare uptake of HA items for older people among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people compared to other Australians. Adjustments were made for dual eligibility. Uptake of the HA items for older people was compared to the uptake of the new item for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 15–44 years.
Our analyses suggest a significant and persistent disparity in the uptake of items for older patients among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people compared to other Australians. A similar disparity appears to exist in the uptake of the new adult Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander HA item.
Further engagement of primary care providers and the community around the uptake of the new HA items may be required to ensure that the anticipated health benefits eventuate.
The burden of mental health problems among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children is a major public health problem in Australia. While socioeconomic factors are implicated as important determinants of mental health problems in mainstream populations, their bearing on the mental health of Indigenous Australians remains largely uncharted across all age groups.
We examined the relationship between the risk of clinically significant emotional or behavioural difficulties (CSEBD) and a range of socioeconomic measures for 3993 Indigenous children aged 4–17 years in Western Australia, using a representative survey conducted in 2000–02. Analysis was conducted using multivariate logistic regression within a multilevel framework.
Almost one quarter (24%) of Indigenous children were classified as being at high risk of CSEBD. Our findings generally indicate that higher socioeconomic status is associated with a reduced risk of mental health problems in Indigenous children. Housing quality and tenure and neighbourhood-level disadvantage all have a strong direct effect on child mental health. Further, the circumstances of families with Indigenous children (parenting quality, stress, family composition, overcrowding, household mobility, racism and family functioning) emerged as an important explanatory mechanism underpinning the relationship between child mental health and measures of material wellbeing such as carer employment status and family financial circumstances.
Our results provide incremental evidence of a social gradient in the mental health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children. Improving the social, economic and psychological conditions of families with Indigenous children has considerable potential to reduce the mental health inequalities within Indigenous populations and, in turn, to close the substantial racial gap in mental health. Interventions that target housing quality, home ownership and neighbourhood-level disadvantage are likely to be particularly beneficial.
Socioeconomic; Social disparities; Social gradient; Aboriginal; Mental health; Indigenous; Inequality; Australia
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians experience widespread socioeconomic disadvantage and health inequality. In an attempt to make Indigenous health research more culturally-appropriate, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians have called for more attention to the concept of emotional and social wellbeing (ESWB). Although it has been widely recognised that ESWB is of crucial importance to the health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, there is little consensus on how to measure in Indigenous populations, hampering efforts to better understand and improve the psychosocial determinants of health. This paper explores the policy and political context to this situation, and suggests ways to move forward. The second part of the paper explores how scales can be evaluated in a health research setting, including assessments of endorsement, discrimination, internal and external reliability.
We then evaluate the use of a measure of stressful life events, the Negative Life Events Scale (NLES), in two samples of Aboriginal people living in remote communities in the Northern Territory of Australia. We argue that the Negative Life Events Scale is a promising assessment of psychosocial wellbeing in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander populations. Evaluation of the scale and its performance in other samples of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander populations is imperative if we hope to develop better, rather than more, scales for measuring ESWB among Indigenous Australians. Only then will it be possible to establish standardized methods of measuring ESWB and develop a body of comparable literature that can guide both a better understanding of ESWB, and evaluation of interventions designed to improve the psychosocial health of Indigenous populations and decrease health inequalities.
Aboriginal Australians experience poorer outcomes, and are 2.5 times more likely to die from cancer than non-Aboriginal people, even after adjustment for stage of diagnosis, cancer treatment and comorbidities. They are also less likely to present early as a result of symptoms and to access treatment. Psycho-social factors affect Aboriginal people's willingness and ability to participate in cancer-related screening and treatment services, but little exploration of this has occurred within Australia to date. The current research adopted a phenomenological qualitative approach to understand and explore the lived experiences of Aboriginal Australians with cancer and their beliefs and understanding around this disease in Western Australia (WA). This paper details considerations in the design and process of conducting the research.
The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) guidelines for ethical conduct of Aboriginal research were followed. Researchers acknowledged the past negative experiences of Aboriginal people with research and were keen to build trust and relationships prior to conducting research with them. Thirty in-depth interviews with Aboriginal people affected by cancer and twenty with health service providers were carried out in urban, rural and remote areas of WA. Interviews were audio-recorded, transcribed verbatim and coded independently by two researchers. NVivo7 software was used to assist data management and analysis. Participants' narratives were divided into broad categories to allow identification of key themes and discussed by the research team.
Discussion and conclusion
Key issues specific to Aboriginal research include the need for the research process to be relationship-based, respectful, culturally appropriate and inclusive of Aboriginal people. Researchers are accountable to both participants and the wider community for reporting their findings and for research translation so that the research outcomes benefit the Aboriginal community. There are a number of factors that influence whether the desired level of engagement can be achieved in practice. These include the level of resourcing for the project and the researchers' efforts to ensure dissemination and research translation; and the capacity of the Aboriginal community to engage with research given other demands upon their time.
The aim of this work was to determine the feasibility of improving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander status recording for notifiable diseases using all Invasive Pneumococcal Disease (IPD) notifications in a regional area of New South Wales, Australia.
In Australia people with IPD are nearly always admitted to hospital and their Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander status is recorded. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander status was determined for IPD notifications by referring to the routine hospital admission data in a regional area of New South Wales, Australia.
There were 234 notifications in the regional area of Hunter New England during the period 2007–2009. Initially, 168 (72%) notifications had Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander status recorded. After referring to the routine hospital admission data, the recorded status increased to 232 (99%). Updating the surveillance data required less than five minutes per notification.
Referring to routine hospital admission data proved a useful and time-efficient surveillance strategy to increase the proportion of notifications with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander status. These data can then be used to better understand the current epidemiology of IPD. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children aged 0–4 years have a two- to threefold higher rate of invasive pneumococcal disease than non-Aboriginal children, thus high levels of timely pneumococcal immunization coverage remain important for young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children.
Discharge Against Medical Advice (DAMA) from hospital is associated with adverse outcomes and is considered an indicator of the responsiveness of hospitals to the needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, the indigenous people of Australia. We investigated demographic and clinical factors that predict DAMA in patients experiencing their first-ever inpatient admission for ischaemic heart disease (IHD). The study focuses particularly on the differences in the risk of DAMA in Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal patients while also investigating other factors in their own right.
A cross-sectional analytical study was undertaken using linked hospital and mortality data with complete coverage of Western Australia. Participants included all first-ever IHD inpatients (aged 25–79 years) admitted between 2005 and 2009, selected after a 15-year clearance period and who were discharged alive. The main outcome measure was DAMA as reflected in the hospital record.
Multiple logistic regression was used to determine disparities in DAMA between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal patients, adjusting for a range of demographic and clinical factors, including comorbidity based on 5-year hospitalization history. A series of additional models were run on subgroups of the cohort to refine the analysis. Ethics approval was granted by the WA Human Research and the WA Aboriginal Health Ethics Committees.
Aboriginal patients comprised 4.3% of the cohort of 37,304 IHD patients and 23% of the 224 DAMAs. Emergency admission (OR=5.9, 95% CI 2.9-12.2), alcohol admission history (alcohol-related OR=2.9, 95% CI 2.0-4.2) and Aboriginality (OR 2.3, 95% CI 1.5-3.5) were the strongest predictors of DAMA in the multivariate model. Patients living in rural areas while attending non-metropolitan hospitals had a 50% higher risk of DAMA than those living and hospitalised in metropolitan areas. There was consistency in the ORs for Aboriginality in the different multivariate models using restricted sub-cohorts and different Aboriginal identifiers. Sex, IHD diagnosis type and co-morbidity scores imparted different risks in Aboriginal versus non-Aboriginal patients.
Understanding the risks and reasons for DAMA is important for health system policy and proactive management of those at risk of DAMA. Improving care to prevent DAMA should target unplanned admissions, rural hospitals and young men, Aboriginal people and those with alcohol and mental health comorbidities.
Discharge against medical advice; Aboriginal health; Ischaemic Heart Disease; Linked data; Australia
Problem Inhabitants of Torres Strait Islands have the highest prevalence of diabetes in Australia and many preventable complications. In 1999, a one year randomised cluster trial showed improved diabetes care processes and reduced admissions to hospital when local indigenous health workers used registers, recall and reminder systems, and basic diabetes care plans, supported by a specialist outreach service. This study looked at whether those improvements were sustained two years after the end of the trial.
Design Three year follow up clinical audit of 21 primary healthcare centres, and review of admissions to hospital in the previous 12 months.
Background and setting Remote indigenous communities in far north east Australia, population about 9600, including 921 people with diabetes.
Key measures for improvement Number of people on registers, care processes (regular measures of weight, blood pressure, haemoglobin A1c, urinary protein concentration, and concentrations of serum lipids and creatinine), appropriate clinical interventions (drug treatment and vaccinations), and intermediate patient outcome measures (weight, blood pressure, and glycaemic control). Admissions to hospital.
Strategies for change Audit and feedback to clinicians and managers; provision of clinical guidelines and a clear management structure; workshops and training.
Effects of change The number of people on registers increased from 555 in 1999 to 921 in 2002. Most care processes and clinical interventions improved. The proportion of people with good glycaemic control (haemoglobin A1c ≤ 7%) increased from 18% to 25% in line with increased use of insulin (from 7% to 16%). The proportion of those with well controlled hypertension (< 140/90) increased from 40% to 64%. The proportion admitted to hospital with a diabetes related condition fell from 25% to 20%. Mean weight increased from 87 kg to 91 kg.
Lessons learnt In remote settings, appropriate management structures and clinical support for people with diabetes can lead to improvements in care processes, control of blood pressure, and preventable complications that result in admission to hospital. Control of weight and glycaemia are more difficult and requires more active community engagement. Priorities now include increasing the availability and affordability of good food, achieving weight loss, and increasing appropriate use of hypoglycaemic agents, including insulin.
Problem: Inhabitants of Torres Strait Islands have the highest prevalence of diabetes in Australia and many preventable complications. In 1999, a one year randomised cluster trial showed improved diabetes care processes and reduced admissions to hospital when local indigenous health workers used registers, recall and reminder systems, and basic diabetes care plans, supported by a specialist outreach service. This study looked at whether those improvements were sustained two years after the end of the trial.
Design: Three year follow up clinical audit of 21 primary healthcare centres, and review of admissions to hospital in the previous 12 months.
Background and Setting: Remote indigenous communities in far north east Australia, population about 9600, including 921 people with diabetes.
Key Measures for Improvement: Number of people on registers, care processes (regular measures of weight, blood pressure, haemoglobin A1c, urinary protein concentration, and concentrations of serum lipids and creatinine), appropriate clinical interventions (drug treatment and vaccinations), and intermediate patient outcome measures (weight, blood pressure, and glycaemic control). Admissions to hospital.
Strategies for Change: Audit and feedback to clinicians and managers; provision of clinical guidelines and a clear management structure; workshops and training.
Effects of Change: The number of people on registers increased from 555 in 1999 to 921 in 2002. Most care processes and clinical interventions improved. The proportion of people with good glycaemic control (haemoglobin A1c 7%) increased from 18% to 25% in line with increased use of insulin (from 7% to 16%). The proportion of those with well controlled hypertension (< 140/90) increased from 40% to 64%. The proportion admitted to hospital with a diabetes related condition fell from 25% to 20%. Mean weight increased from 87 kg to 91 kg.
Lessons Learnt: In remote settings, appropriate management structures and clinical support for people with diabetes can lead to improvements in care processes, control of blood pressure, and preventable complications that result in admission to hospital. Control of weight and glycaemia are more difficult and requires more active community engagement. Priorities now include increasing the availability and affordability of good food, achieving weight loss, and increasing appropriate use of hypoglycaemic agents, including insulin.
Child Sexual Assault (CSA) in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities is a complex issue that cannot be understood in isolation from the ongoing impacts of colonial invasion, genocide, assimilation, institutionalised racism and severe socio-economic deprivation. Service responses to CSA are often experienced as racist, culturally, financially and/or geographically inaccessible. A two-day forum, National Yarn Up: Sharing the Wisdoms and Challenges of Young People and Sexual Abuse, was convened by sexual assault services to identify the main practice and policy concerns regarding working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people (C&YP), families and communities in the context of CSA. The forum also aimed to explore how services can become more accountable and better engaged with the communities they are designed to support. The forum was attended by eighty invited Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and non-Aboriginal youth sexual assault managers and workers representing both “victim” and “those who sexually harm others” services. In keeping with Aboriginal Community-Based Research methods forum participants largely directed discussions and contributed to the analysis of key themes and recommendations reported in this article. The need for sexual assault services to prioritise cultural safety by meaningfully integrating Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Worldviews emerged as a key recommendation. It was also identified that collaboration between “victims” and “those who sexually harm” services are essential given Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander C&YP who sexually harm others may have also been victims of sexual assault or physical violence and intergenerational trauma. By working with the whole family and community, a collaborative approach is more likely than the current service model to develop cultural safety and thus increase the accessibility of sexual assault services.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people; children and young people; child sexual assault; those who sexually harm others; trauma; gender; cultural safety; aboriginal worldviews; aboriginal community-based participation research methods