Training in medicine management improves Aboriginal health

22 March 2012

This year on National Close the Gap Day — 22 March 2012 — NPS is playing its part through its work with Aboriginal Health Workers and pharmacists to increase people’s understanding of being medicinewise in helping to close the gap.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as a whole have significantly more health problems than other Australians, yet expenditure on medicines per Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders is around 40% of the amount spent on other Australians*. Many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people live with poorly managed conditions such as asthma, diabetes and high blood pressure. 

NPS manages a range of programs designed to improve health in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities through assisting Aboriginal Health Workers improve their knowledge and skills about medicines to then use this knowledge in a clinical setting with patients.

NPS Head of Programs Ms Karen Kaye says that NPS is delighted with the response to – and the results from the Aboriginal Health Workers training program.

"We have had excellent feedback on the program from participants," said Ms Kaye.

Three members of the chronic care team at the Aboriginal Medical Service in Western Sydney – Mrs Joyce Davison, Ms Tania Davison and Ms Louise Moore - completed the training. The three women found their confidence increased greatly in answering their clients' questions about medicines.

"The course itself looked rather confusing at first, but NPS trainer Jo McMahon, who is a pharmacist, made it simple to understand," said course participant Louise Moore.

"I found the course really beneficial for our jobs — for understanding when patients come and ask you about their medicines."

Participant Joyce Davison said that part of the course involved everyone receiving a copy of the Australian Medicines Handbook, which has come in very handy as an information resource and for explaining important concepts around medicine brand choices.

"We often have patients say 'How come we’ve been given the generic brand?'. Some of them think they’ve been given the wrong medicine, while others think they are being given an inferior brand," said Mrs Davison.

"Before I did the course, I was querying that too with my own prescriptions. Now that we each have our own handbook, we can look up each medication."

The training also covers some of the common medicine safety issues that Aboriginal Health Workers can help to address, such as knowing not to share medicines, safe dispensing, storage, contraindications of medicines, identifying adverse events, assisting clients to administer their own medicine.

"There have been some of our clients out in the community who I know have been sharing their medication if they run out. For example they think all blood pressure tablets or diabetes medicines are the same, so they can share them with other people. But now I can tell them, that they’re not all the same and it’s important not to share your medicines," said Mrs Davison.

Louise Moore says that some of her patients don’t want to ask the doctor the questions, so they approach their Aboriginal health workers instead.

"We’re not the ones prescribing the medicines and we still encourage patients to talk to their doctor," says Mrs Davison, "but now if anyone comes in and asks me 'what’s this medicine for?' or 'what does this one do?' or if they can show me the bottle, I can look up the medicine in my book and help them find out more."

Penny Abbott, a GP who works with the chronic disease team at the Aboriginal Medical Service in Western Sydney, said the course had been quite inspiring for her colleagues who took part.

"They came back fired up about the changes we could make at our service to help people manage and understand their medications better," said Dr Abbott.

In 2011, a total of 32 Aboriginal workers from New South Wales, Queensland, Western Australia, and South Australia participated in four workshops. An NPS evaluation reported  an increase in both knowledge and confidence across all participants surveyed, with participants ranking their satisfaction with the course as either ‘satisfied’ or ‘very satisfied’ and all indicating they were keen to continue with more training.



* Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Performance Framework 2010 report, page 156

Independent, evidence-based and not-for-profit, NPS enables better decisions about medicines and medical tests.We are funded by the Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing.