Issues with prescribed medications in Aboriginal communities: Aboriginal health workers' perspectives

Kim Hamrosi, Susan J Taylor, Parisa Aslani
Rural and Remote Health 2006, 6 (2): 557

INTRODUCTION: The health of Indigenous Australians remains appalling. The causes of this situation are multi-factorial, however one contributing factor is poor medication compliance within Aboriginal populations. Anecdotal evidence provided by Aboriginal health workers in western New South Wales (NSW), Australia, has suggested that there are problems associated with the use of prescribed medications within the Aboriginal community. Aboriginal health workers form a core component of the Aboriginal health service sector and they have an in-depth knowledge of the community and its healthcare provision, as well as a familiarity with clinic patients and families. As such they are an important group whose opinions and beliefs about medication use in the Aboriginal population should be investigated. While there have been studies on the issues of prescribing in Aboriginal communities and access to medications, limited investigation into the use of prescribed medicines in Aboriginal communities and the role of the pharmacist in that process, has taken place. Therefore, this research aimed to identify the type of and reasons for inappropriate use of prescribed medications within Aboriginal communities serviced by the Mid Western Area Health Service (since incorporated into the Greater West Area Health Service) as perceived by the Aboriginal health workers in the area, and to explore strategies in conjunction with those Aboriginal health workers to address identified issues.

METHODS: Qualitative, in-depth interviews were held with 11 Aboriginal health workers employed in Community Health Centres and hospitals in the Mid Western Area Health service of NSW. The interviews were audiotaped and transcribed verbatim. The transcripts were content analysed for emerging themes. The interviews explored the beliefs, perceptions and experiences of the Aboriginal health workers regarding prescribed medication use, the role of the pharmacist, and identification of future strategies to improve medication use in local Aboriginal communities.

RESULTS: The Aboriginal health workers reported a general lack of access to medications and frequent inappropriate use of medications due to limited understanding, literacy and information all of which lead to non-compliance with instructions. Medication sharing was common in their communities. They reported that many Aboriginal people were uncomfortable seeking medicines advice, and the consumer medicine information provided was often difficult to understand, culturally inappropriate and unlikely to be utilised. Strategies suggested to improve pharmacist services and access to the services were a more 'Aboriginal friendly' environment, relationship development between pharmacists and Aboriginal health workers, cultural awareness programs for pharmacists and their staff, provision of disease state management services and medicine education programs by pharmacists for Aboriginal health workers.

CONCLUSION: Medication misunderstandings and non-compliance within the Aboriginal community frequently occur. Suggestions to improve access, understanding and compliance, along with the education and training of Aboriginal health workers may provide tools for self-determination. Pharmacists may be well positioned to provide Aboriginal health workers with medicines information and patient education skills, and encourage the effective use of medicines within the Aboriginal community.

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