A new project led by indigenous community leaders, together with researchers from the University of Queensland, seeks to link disparate health records of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders across health facilities to improve maternal and perinatal health outcomes.
The Digital Infrastructure For improving First Nations Maternal and Child Health (DIFFERENCE) project has been awarded A$3 million in funding from the federal government’s Medical Research Future Fund.
It is a collaboration between UQ, the Institute for Urban Indigenous Health, Mater Health, Metro North Hospital and Health Service, CSIRO, Queensland Cyber Infrastructure Foundation and the Queensland University of Technology.
WHY IT MATTERS
For every 100,000 Australian women who gave birth over the past decade, 17.5 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women died, according to data from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. This ratio is higher compared to the case of non-indigenous women (5.5 per 100,000 women).
Between 2015-2019, around 600 indigenous children aged 0-4 died, mostly infants. The rate of child deaths in that period is two times higher for indigenous children than non-indigenous children.
Meanwhile, over 1,000 babies of indigenous mothers died during the perinatal period. The perinatal mortality rate of babies born to indigenous mothers is 15 per 1,000 births, compared to 9 per 1,000 for babies born to non-indigenous women.
“These concerning statistics are why we are embarking on this project,” said Dr Clair Sullivan, UQ associate professor and the research’s chief investigator.
Dr Sullivan also noted how medical professionals have difficulty accessing all information from disconnected health facilities to make informed decisions.
“We will pioneer the connection of First Nations health data in real time across clinical services and create a standard that ensures continuous and quality care for mothers and their babies,” she said.
For Adrain Carson, CEO of the Institute for Urban Indigenous Health, the data linkage project will enhance their capabilities to provide birthing services to indigenous communities, as well as improve the overall hospital experience for mothers and their children.
THE LARGER TREND
Another project in the Northern Territory aims to increase the uptake of digital health technologies in indigenous communities to save patient time and improve outcomes. This three-year project led by NT Health and the Menzies School of Health Research will evaluate how existing and emerging technologies could be best deployed in those remote communities.