Clinicians having a yarn with First Nations patients could drive better health outcomes

27 July 2023

The ancient art of storytelling through yarning is helping health professionals better communicate with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander patients experiencing chronic pain.

Researchers from QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute have conducted a study evaluating clinical yarning as a tool to improve communication between health practitioners and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander patients.

Ineffective communication is an issue in pain management, especially when there are cultural differences between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander patients and the health professionals treating them, such as doctors, nurses, and allied health professionals.

Under the study, project lead Gregory Pratt said health practitioners from Brisbane and Townsville participated in a clinical yarning training program that equipped them with culturally cognisant and sensitive communication skills.

“Yarning is a conversation where the participants share their stories and knowledge. It’s an important social element of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture and has been around for thousands of years,” said Mr Pratt.

“We believe clinical yarning is a worthwhile health intervention. Through yarning, clinicians can find common ground with their patients, learn more about their patients’ medical history and current medical condition, and explain medical treatment and care.

“Clinical yarning is a patient-centred approach that teaches clinicians how to communicate positively in a respectful and culturally appropriate way with First Nations patients. They are learning how to build a trusting relationship with their patients.”

The workshop

The co-designed clinical yarning training package was provided to 57 clinicians across three hospital sites: Princess Alexandra Hospital and Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital in Brisbane; and Townsville Hospital in Far North Queensland.

The program was underpinned by the Clinical Yarning Education Program (framework developed by Dr Ivan Lin) and the Queensland Health Cultural Capability training.

Participants were surveyed before and after the workshop on their perceived importance of communication training, knowledge, confidence, and ability to communicate effectively with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander patients experiencing chronic pain.

“Significant improvements in the perceived importance of communication training, knowledge, ability and confidence to effectively communicate with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander patients were identified, but the greatest increase was in the perceived confidence of clinicians pre-training compared to post-training,” said Mr Pratt.

He said the method was transferrable to other health system sectors seeking to train their clinical workforce with culturally sensitive communication skills.

The outcomes of the clinical yarning project formed the basis for Mr Pratt’s application for a two-year Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) grant to replicate the training model for mental health professionals treating Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander patients.

The project is now also the focus of a university subject at QUT. Project materials will be used to teach Faculty of Health students enrolled in the Communication for Health Professionals unit taught by Associate Professor Stuart Ekberg.

This project was supported by funding from the Australian Government under the Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF).

Four papers have been published on the study:

  • Study protocol: Clinical Yarning, a communication training program for clinicians supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander patients with persistent pain: a multicentre intervention feasibility study using mixed methods. DOI: 10.1016/j.puhip.2021.100221
  • Clinician perspectives of communication with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders managing persistent pain: Needs and Preferences. DOI: 10.3390/ijerph19031572
  • Communication and access to health care: Experiences of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people managing pain in Queensland, Australia. DOI: 10.3389/fpain.2022.1041968
  • Yarning about pain: Evaluating communication training for health professionals at persistent pain services in Queensland, Australia.

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