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New palliative care app for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders

21 May 2018

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A reference group workshop about the palliative care app was held in 2017, engaging with a broad range of stakeholders including a registered nurse from Toomelah, a court support worker, Year 12 student, two Indigenous health workers, Drug Arm community support worker, community justice coordinator, member of the DDHHS Indigenous Coordination team, app developer, clinical nurse from Goondiwindi Hospital Community Health, representatives from the Health Improvement Unit and Goondiwindi Hospital’s director of nursing.

A pioneering new palliative care app developed in Goondiwindi for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is being developed as the Darling Downs Hospital and Health Service (DDHHS) observes National Palliative Care Week from 20 to 26 May 2018.

A prototype of the Advance Care Yarning app has been reviewed by a reference group and cultural team and is currently out to tender for finalisation before being trialed by the Goondiwindi community, and then other Indigenous groups within the DDHHS.

The brainchild of Goondiwindi Hospital Director of Nursing/Facility Manager Lorraine McMurtrie, the app is designed to assist the wider population of Indigenous communities when it comes to understanding, discussing and making decisions about palliative care.

Early stages of the Advance Care Yarning app were developed with valuable input from a local reference group and supported by the Indigenous advisory working party.

"From yarning with the local Indigenous representatives, we learnt Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people view death differently to western culture – it’s more of ‘a spirit passing’," Mrs McMurtrie said.

"The app needed to engage in conversation of their choices relating to family, health and wishes and it also needed to be depicted in a culturally and sensitive way.

"One of the key aspects is to use Indigenous artwork such as the bush, the river and fishing to symbolise some of the concepts contained in the app as storytelling through art is very powerful."

From this basis, the prototype app was further developed in partnership with a team from the Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital, Queensland University, SAE Qantm and eHealth Queensland's Digital Innovation and Strategy Unit at Brisbane’s Health Hack 2017, where it won first place/best design.

Mrs McMurtrie said it was wonderful to be a part of a team that saw coders working with health professionals to come up with the next stage of the prototype app designed to help Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people understand their rights and empower them to make choices about their end–of-life care.

"The app is easy to understand, culturally and language specific, with an engaging design that encompasses Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander spiritual needs," Mrs McMurtrie said.

The idea to develop the app came after Mrs McMurtrie identified that there were many palliative care obstacles for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and a gap in culturally appropriate information for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in regards to palliative care.

She also observed that many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people of all ages in her community were frequent and skilled users of technology including smartphones and tablets.

"Many people living in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities experience poor health and chronic illness, leading to a high number of unexpected deaths," Mrs McMurtrie said.

"Access to palliative care is often impeded by late recognition of deteriorating patients and geographic challenges," she said.

"The absence of culturally appropriate information or resources is often compounded by a lack of patient understanding and involvement in decision making, while socio-political factors - such as mistrust of mainstream services can also be a factor.

"The new app will provide Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with opportunities to talk through what is important to them in a palliative care situation.

"It will improve access to culturally appropriate information and help guide Indigenous people in making choices about how they spend their time in the final stages of life.

"This technology will also provide opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to document their wishes, so that health professionals, family and community members know how an individual wants to be cared for and ensuring they have a voice."

Last updated: 31 May 2018