"Hiding the story": indigenous consumer concerns about communication related to chronic disease in one remote region of Australia

Int J Speech Lang Pathol. 2012 Jun;14(3):200-8. doi: 10.3109/17549507.2012.663791. Epub 2012 Mar 23.


This paper reports on a collaborative qualitative study which explored education and communication practice related to chronic disease from the perspectives of Aboriginal people in a remote region of the Northern Territory, Australia, where the prevalence of chronic disease is extremely high. Most Yolngu (Aboriginal people of Northeast Arnhem Land) do not speak English as their first language and few health staff share the language and cultural background of their clients. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with Yolngu community members and health staff in their preferred language in small groups or individually, in an approach that was flexible and responsive to the concerns and priorities of Yolngu researchers and participants. As well, health education interactions were videotaped to facilitate more in-depth understanding of the strengths and challenges in communication (one video can be viewed at http://informahealthcare.com/doi/abs/10.3109/17549507.2012.663791). An iterative and collaborative process of analysis, interpretation, and verification revealed that communication and education related to chronic disease is highly ineffective, restricting the extent to which Yolngu can make informed decisions in managing their health. Yolngu participants consistently stated that they wanted a detailed and direct explanation about causes and management of chronic disease from health staff, and rarely believed this had been provided, sometimes assuming that information about their health is deliberately withheld. These serious limitations in communication and education have extensive negative consequences for individuals, their families, and health services. These findings also have broader relevance to all areas of healthcare, including allied health services, which share similar challenges in achieving effective communication. Without addressing the profound and pervasive inadequacies in communication, other interventions designed to close the gap in Indigenous health are unlikely to succeed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Video-Audio Media

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Attitude of Health Personnel / ethnology
  • Chronic Disease / ethnology
  • Chronic Disease / therapy*
  • Communication Barriers*
  • Comprehension
  • Cultural Characteristics*
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice / ethnology*
  • Health Services Accessibility
  • Healthcare Disparities / ethnology
  • Humans
  • Language*
  • Middle Aged
  • Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander*
  • Northern Territory / epidemiology
  • Patient Education as Topic
  • Patient Satisfaction / ethnology
  • Perception
  • Professional-Patient Relations*
  • Qualitative Research
  • Rural Health Services*
  • Truth Disclosure*
  • Video Recording