Indigenous health’s holistic success

indigenous-father-and-daughter-croppedChronic conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and mental health problems are prevalent among Aboriginal communities, with evidence showing Indigenous populations are three times more likely to suffer diabetes than non-Indigenous people and almost twice as likely to suffer heart disease.

However a new Flinders University report shows personal care plans based on a client’s own goals, along with structured systems of support for self-management, are two of the most effective strategies to manage chronic health conditions in Aboriginal communities.

The four-year study, conducted by researchers from Flinders Human Behaviour and Health Research Unit and the Aboriginal Health Council of SA, evaluated the effectiveness of several chronic condition management strategies used in three Aboriginal health services; the Port Lincoln Aboriginal Health Service, the Riverland Community Health Service and Nunkuwarrin Yunti of SA based in Adelaide.

Study coordinator Dr Inge Kowanko, a senior research fellow from the School of Medicine, said an analysis of clinical data from 36 clients involved in structured chronic condition management strategies across the three sites showed improvements over time in “key health indicators”, while interviews with clients confirmed the benefits to their wellbeing.

She said factors which support and sustain effective management strategies – identified through interviews with 12 staff and 18 clients – included access to appropriate and affordable health services, an effective clinical information management system, family and peer support, sufficient trained staff, client knowledge and commitment, and community engagement.

She said the strategies used in Port Lincoln, based on a “holistic” system of self-management support, were particularly successful.

“When you have structured personalised care plans which are developed by the health worker and client together, the outcomes are more likely to be effective,” Dr Kowanko said.

“Previously we had anecdotal evidence that showed structured chronic condition management might be useful in Aboriginal contexts but we didn’t actually know whether they improved health in the long term,” she said.

“But our research shows that structured health plans which are built with the client, for their specific goals, do make a difference, and can be adapted and sustained in a range of settings.

“While chronic conditions don’t necessarily kill people, they do have a significant impact on a person’s life and that’s why it’s really important that these conditions are managed well so these people can live well and get the most out of life.”

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