Heart-felt help for remote communities

Atrial fibrillation is the most common serious cardiac arrhythmia. Photo: J Heuser, creative commons, CC BY-SA 3.0.

Aboriginal health care and community workers are being trained to use a mobile phone app to check for atrial fibrillation.

This project is a collaboration between the Flinders University Poche Centres for Indigenous Health and Wellbeing in South Australia and Northern Territory, the University of Western Australia and Sydney University Poche Centre which initiated and leads the project.

There is a 10-year gap in life expectancy between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians. The leading cause of death for Indigenous Australians is cardiovascular disease, including heart attack and stroke.

Atrial fibrillation (AF) is the most common cause of stroke and heart attack. The risk of AF increases with age and quality of life is significantly worse for those with AF.

The Flinders study, carried out under the guidance of Professor Dennis McDermott, who chairs the Poche Centre for Indigenous Health and Wellbeing at Flinders University in Adelaide, and Associate Professor Kerry Taylor,  from the Poche Centre in Alice Springs, aimed to detect the prevalence of AF in Aboriginal people aged 45 years and over.

Professor McDermott says the research was conducted in a culturally safe and respectful way in Indigenous communities to establish rapport and develop trusting relationships.

The second part of the project involves training Aboriginal health and community workers to use the iPhone ECG (electrocardiogram) or iECG device to detect abnormal heart rhythms which include AF.

Monica Lawrence, Senior Lecturer from the Flinders Poche Centre for Indigenous Health and Wellbeing, has worked in four remote communities in Central Australia, along with several rural communities in southern Queensland and northern New South Wales.

She is passionate about adding value to the iECG research by incorporating the device with other point-of-care testing devices as part of a chronic disease health assessment.

Monica Lawrence from the Poche Centre has worked in remote communities in the NT, Queensland and NSW.
Monica Lawrence from the Poche Centre has worked in remote communities in the NT, Queensland and NSW.

“What is unique is that the portable iECG is a point-of-care cardiac testing device, and referral pathways for follow-up after detecting AF can be tailored for a particular community,” Ms Lawrence says.

She says the AliveCor iECG heart monitor was chosen for the study as it is small and clips onto the back of most smart phones.

“This device can record a single lead ECG in 30 seconds. A validated algorithm allows reliable detection of AF and and enables cost-effective community-based screening in rural and remote communities.”

The benefits to these communities include empowering Aboriginal health care and community workers to confidently use the iECG device which then “improves health literacy through innovative teaching methods to enable Aboriginal health care and community workers to better understand normal and abnormal cardiac rhythms”.

 

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