Mapping the Indigenous patient journey

iStockphoto/©Gary Radler
iStockphoto/©Gary Radler

A mapping tool to track the entire Aboriginal patient journey, from home to hospital and back home again, has been developed by Flinders University researchers.

The new mapping method will help case managers, coordinators, doctors, nurses and Aboriginal health care workers plan and follow a patient’s journey – from the start of their illness and presentation at their local regional health service to city hospital admission and the return home.

Flinders University research associate Dr Janet Kelly, who helped developed the tool, said the approach could enable clinicians to “prepare for the complexities” that often occur when country Aboriginal people attend city hospitals.

These complexities include such things as transport and accommodation, communication between staff, patients and health care sites, as well as various other social, financial and cultural concerns.

“What’s unique about this tool is that it spans across all health care settings, from rural to city, primary to secondary to tertiary care, Aboriginal to mainstream, and it encompasses all health conditions,” Dr Kelly said.

“It also brings together the perspectives of the patient, the carer and the health service provider across the entire patient journey, which enables the gaps to be more visible,” she said.

“A health care provider in a country location, for example, could use the tool to help plan for some of the issues the patient may face, while the city hospital could use it to prepare for the patient’s stay.”

The mapping tool is part of a wider project, Managing Two Worlds Together: City Hospital Care for Country Aboriginal People, funded through SA Health to better understand the gaps and barriers to the delivery of health care for Aboriginal patients from rural and remote parts of South Australia and the Northern Territory.

Dr Kelly, who is managing the project, said research conducted during the first stage of the four-year project identified the impact of problems for country Aboriginal people requiring city hospital care, including access, communication and language barriers, and interruptions in the continuity of care.

“While clinical complexities of a patient’s condition are often recognised and responded to, the complexity of the entire journey through the health care system can be overlooked,” Dr Kelly said.

She said the next stage of the study, which is now underway, involves disseminating and sharing the findings with all levels of the health care system, from clinicians to policy-makers, and to work on a set of projects that address some of the issues identified in the initial research.

As part of the dissemination component, the Managing Two Worlds Together team will work with health care providers to see how they can adapt the patient mapping tool to suit their individual needs.

While initial reports have highlighted the effectiveness of the tool, Dr Kelly said she now hoped to conduct a wider trial across various sites and services.

“We’re keen to work with service providers to see how they can best adapt and utilise the tool – it’s all about sharing and transferring knowledge for the overall benefit of the patient.”

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