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Videos changing perceptions of Indigenous health

Monday, 30 April 2012

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A security guard in a hospital threatens to a throw an Indigenous man out onto the street because he assumes the man is drunk. 

Minutes later the man collapses and an emergency response is called.  The man was seriously ill, and was simply drinking water. 

This scenario is played out in one of several videos on a new website developed by Edith Cowan University (ECU) researchers. It aims to improve the treatment of Indigenous patients by challenging attitudes of health professionals and creating empathy with their patients.

The website hosts an online collection of experiences, both positive and negative from Indigenous people who have experienced WA’s healthcare system, either as patients, carers or visitors. 

The stories reflect a number of different issues including:  

•    Negative stereotypes;
•    Passing on and paying respect to dying relatives;
•    Communication between patients and health professionals; and
•    Cultural respect.

Entitled Creating Cultural Empathy and Challenging Attitudes through Indigenous Narratives, the website was developed in response to a request to incorporate Indigenous voices into all areas of the healthcare curriculum.

The $220,000 project is funded an Australian Teaching and Learning (ALTC) grant, awarded to ECU in March 2010.

George is one Indigenous man who shared his story.

“We were visiting my aunty, who was quite sick in hospital. One nurse made the assumption that because there was a group of Aboriginal people sitting under a tree, esky there, we must all be drinking,” George said.

The truth was that George and his family were taking a break from visiting their Aunty. The esky was filled with soft drink and water to keep them hydrated during the 40 degree day.

“The one assumption can lead to a big problem,” he said.

Not all the stories are negative. In another video, Jennifer talks about the good relationship she has with her doctor.

”You know, she came into my life and made a difference – because she stopped, listened to me and understood me,” Jennifer said.

Head of ECU’s School of Medical Sciences, and one of the ECU project leads, Associate Professor Moira Sim hopes the website will provide valuable lessons for those in the health industry. 

“The lessons that emerge from the narratives are simple. Spend time with patients and get to know what is important to them. Build trust, and communicate medical and clinical terms in ways that people understand while remaining respectful of their cultural background.”

Head of Kurongkurl Katitjin, Centre for Indigenous Australian Education and Research and fellow project lead, Professor Colleen Hayward agrees.

“There is something special about how stories make us feel and we encourage educators to develop learning materials and use these stories in their classrooms,” Professor Hayward said.

The ECU Project Team leading this work comprises Ms Toni Wain, Associate Professor Moira Sim, Professor Colleen Hayward and Professor Cobie Rudd.

The Team also includes researchers from the University of Western Australia, the Health Consumers' Council, University of Notre Dame, the Combined Universities Centre for Rural Health, and Curtin University.

Website video scenarios were written by David Milroy.

For more information on the resource and to view the website visit:  http://altc.betterhealth.ecu.edu.au/index.php 

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