An online mapping tool that helps people and communities to access health services as close as possible to family, home and country has been launched in Western Australia, reports Jade Bradford, a Ballardong Noongar freelance journalist based in WA.
Jade Bradford writes:
For years, the Aboriginal community-controlled health sector in Western Australia has been hearing stories about poor coordination of health services for Aboriginal people in remote areas.
It’s not been uncommon to hear of Aboriginal people travelling long distances to Perth for appointments, only having to return weeks later for follow-up consultations, according to Vicki O’Donnell, chairperson of the Aboriginal Health Council of WA (AHCWA).
“A lot of people from remote areas travel to Perth for 15-minute appointments, which could potentially be scheduled when health services are next being delivered in their region,” she says.
Now, a new online tool, MAPPA, has been launched to improve access to healthcare services in remote communities. The free online health mapping platform assists not only First Nations people, but all community members to access health services across WA closer to their family, home and country.
“The specialist can actually look [on MAPPA] to see when the next appointment is in that region and schedule it as opposed to [the patient having to] travel,” Vicki O’Donnell told me during an interview at the tool’s launch in Perth on November 25.
Not only does the information on MAPPA have the potential to reduce the cost to patients having to travel thousands of kilometres, it could also decrease expenses associated with regional and remote emergency responses and publicly funded specialist visits.
The AHCWA and its 23 member Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services worked together to create MAPPA, which uses spatial mapping to help patients locate health services, clinicians, GPs, allied health practitioners and other health professionals closest to their homes.
It has been designed to cater for everyone, including users who are not technology savvy or have English as a second or third language.
According to an AHCWA statement, “MAPPA is about ‘Getting the right care, in the right place, at the right time’”.
The organisations hope the landmark tool will address challenges faced by First Nations people when trying to access healthcare services and improve the high rates of preventable health issues.
Vicki O’Donnell said MAPPA was designed to bring the patient, healthcare and technology worlds together. It is aimed at improving coordination between metropolitan health care providers and remote based patients.
“One of the important things around MAPPA is that people can get their services back at home. It gives hospitals, specialists and other services provided to remote communities the opportunity to be able to schedule their appointments through telehealth in a much better way,” she said.
MAPPA aligns with recommendations made during the Sustainable Health Review to recognise and strengthen ACCHS as leaders in First Nations primary health care. These recommendations were later repeated in the Climate Health WA Inquiry as reported by Croakey earlier this month.
O’Donnell said AHCWA and ACCHS were grateful for the support given from organisations, who were keen to assist during the creation of MAPPA by sharing public information on all health services and visiting specialists across Western Australia.
MAPPA provides important information to healthcare providers including:
- Place – information about each individual health service
- Health – details of each health care provider, including visiting specialists
- Travel – helps you organise travel routes
- Cultural Tips – cultural safety and appropriateness when working with First Nations people.
Looking to the future, O’Donnell said there was potential to expand the MAPPA platform and to introduce it to other states.
“We’ve got our counterparts in other states, particularly in Northern Territory, South Australia and Queensland who are really keen to come on board because they all want their services closer to home,” she said.
O’Donnell said she was proud of the willingness shown by First Nations people, particularly Elders, to embrace new technologies such as MAPPA and telehealth.
She said pride would likely be felt by Elders at seeing Aboriginal people lead the way in creating new health technology.
“As an Aboriginal person in Western Australia, I am just so proud this has gone live today. There has been a lot of work behind the scenes [from AHCWA staff],” she said.
For more information, see this MAPPA explainer and watch the video below.
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