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New tool developed for practices to identify Indigenous patients

Indigenous eye health advocates have designed a new resource to help eyecare practices initiate conversations with patients who identify as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander.

The University of Melbourne’s Indigenous Eye Health (IEH) unit is now distributing a desktop resource that has been specially developed for mainstream optometry and ophthalmology practices. The group aims to promote cultural safety and ensure Indigenous patients can access appropriate care.

The two-sided, ‘tent-shaped’ resource has been designed in consultation with the Indigenous community and works as a prompt by asking patients: “Are you of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander origin?”. The staff-facing side reminds practice employees to ask the same question to each patient, while remaining sensitive, confident and respectful.

“The prime motivation is to try help the professions of optometry and ophthalmology, and the practices they run, create a setting that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people would consider to be a culturally safe place to receive care,” optometrist and IEH deputy director Mr Mitchell Anjou told Insight.

“There’s no resource like this in mainstream eyecare, and we are now hoping to stimulate conversations within practices about improved approaches to service and care for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people who present at their practices.”

While progress has been made, Indigenous communities continue to experience avoidable vision loss and blindness at three times the rate of the non-Indigenous population.

Anjou said stronger data and evidence could assist in eye service planning and delivery, helping to further reduce Australia’s eye health disparity. Improved identification could also have a positive impact in terms of clinical management.

This includes access to targeted services for Indigenous patients such as subsidised spectacle schemes, prioritisation for cataract surgery, and specific Medicare rebates or funding.

Anjou said other specific service options may be available, including access to Aboriginal hospital liaison officers, Aboriginal health workers and transport support.

“In some cases, clinical guidelines vary between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples and other Australians, for example the frequency of retinal screening for people with diabetes, which is annual for Aboriginal patients and once every two years for other patients,” Anjou said.

The new resource is supported by Optometry Australia, RANZCO and Vision 2020 Australia. It can be accessed on the IEH website www.iehu.unimelb.edu.au.