The Australian Indigenous HealthInfoNet, an Internet resource that aims to provide a “one-stop shop” to inform practice and policy in Indigenous health, was recently recognised with an award.
In the article below, the initiative’s director, Professor Neil Thomson, reflects upon the history of this innovative project, and also highlights some areas of need for future work.
We’ve come a long way, but there is more to be done
Neil Thomson writes:
The Australian Indigenous HealthInfoNet’s recent win in the ‘Diversity’ category of the 2011 Australian and New Zealand Internet Awards (ANZIAs) allows us to reflect on how far we have come since 1997, when we first started using the Internet to provide the evidence base to inform practice and policy in Indigenous health.
The ANZIA recognition that we are ‘making a significant contribution to improving the health of Indigenous people’ is important, but even more important is the increasing use of our free web resource and the feedback we get from Indigenous and non-Indigenous people working across Australia to improve Indigenous health.
People from our various stakeholder groups – Indigenous controlled health organisations, government and non-government agencies, other health service providers, professional associations, and tertiary and other training and research groups – tell us how much they value – and use – the various products of our translational research (not that they use that term).
Our comprehensive reviews of specific health topics, such as those on oral health and volatile substance use are widely used, as is our annually-updated overview of Indigenous health status. ‘Coalface’ workers value being able to check out relevant programs and projects and health promotion and practice resources from across Australia.
And, of course, our online bibliography, providing details of almost 17,600 articles related specifically to Indigenous Australians, is by far the most comprehensive collection of its type.
Many people also take advantage of our ‘yarning places’ (electronic networks) that enable them to connect and share knowledge and experiences with other workers across Australia.
People using our web resource can do this so in the knowledge that we have excellent processes in place to ensure the quality. First, we are assisted by a national Advisory Board of 12 members, 10 of whom are high-profile Indigenous people. We also have national reference groups for an increasing number of topic areas (such as eye health, and substance use). Our national network of honorary HealthInfoNet Consultants – experts in various areas of Indigenous health – has been of enormous value in enhancement of our web resource. The partnerships we have established with relevant groups (such as Indigenous health organisations, research groups, and non-government agencies) offer real benefits in quality, synergies, and reduction of duplication.
We’ve come a long way since 1997, but there’s still much to be done. For a start, we’re aware that there’s considerable room for improvement in our coverage of some health topics.
Our ongoing support from the Australian Department of Health and Ageing’s Office for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health has been crucial in getting us to where we are, but some topics, such as disability and family violence, are largely outside the responsibility the health sector; our coverage of these areas is less than optimal.
Also, we haven’t been able to devote the efforts required to some crucial health areas, such as sexual health and cancer. We would like to expand our coverage of areas like these.
An exciting development in recent years has been our production of materials aimed specifically for Indigenous health workers, some of whom haven’t had the benefit of education to upper high school and above (the target audience of most of our materials).
‘Plain language’ versions of our health reviews address some of the needs of these workers. Even more exciting has been the development recently of sections devoted to Indigenous health workers – initially our section for Indigenous environmental health workers, and, now, one for Indigenous social and emotional wellbeing workers (to go online within the next month). The development of other sections for Indigenous health workers, who play a crucial role in Indigenous health, could make a great contribution to building their capacity.
The journey to date has been challenging – and rewarding – but important challenges lie ahead if the HealthInfoNet is to reach its full potential in contributing to ‘closing the gap’ in health between Indigenous and other Australians. As well as expanding our coverage to all health and related areas, the HealthInfoNet could play a much greater role in building the capacity of Indigenous health workers.
More generally, we need to keep focusing on increasing awareness and use of our crucial web resource, and on developing partnerships with other relevant groups and agencies.