The identification of Aboriginal people in general practice is essential for the delivery of culturally and clinically appropriate care. Knowing if your patient is Aboriginal means you can be vigilant for an increased risk of particular diseases and risk factors, and be able to provide a range of targeted health initiatives, including specific MBS and PBS items.
Aboriginal people continue to have significantly worse health outcomes when compared to non-Aboriginal patients. Identification is the first step in closing this gap.
So how should you, as a GP, be asking your patients?
The standard question endorsed by the Commonwealth Government and RACGP is
‘Are you of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander origin?’
All patients should be asked this standard question and have their status recorded, regardless of their physical appearance or how well you know them. Asking all patients in a consistent way prevents the question’s meaning being altered, and influencing the patient’s response.
Identification can be done in person, over the phone or via a form. Receptionists should check when patients arrive, and clinicians should check when they commence their consultation.
Let’s look at an example of how an identification request should be made:
Receptionist: Hi there, what time is your appointment today?
Patient: 11am thanks
Receptionist: Wonderful. While you’re here I can see that we haven’t recorded your Aboriginal status. Are you of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander origin?
Patient: (puzzled) Oh - why are you asking me that?
Receptionist: The question is a standard one that we ask all patients. We ask because Aboriginal people have some different health needs and we need to know in order to provide the best medical care. If you would like to speak to your GP about it further, they’ll be very glad to.
Patient: Thanks, I think I’ll do that.
Remember, it is not up to you to interrogate an individual’s response. All you have to do it ask.
Identification is an important step towards better health outcomes for Aboriginal people. You can help us close the gap.