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The Australian Health Workforce Institute (AHWI) at The University of Melbourne conducted a study exploring how people from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds living in one region within Melbourne’s North use telecommunications (telephones and the internet) to access health information. In particular the team wanted to know whether members of these communities use landline telephones, mobile phones and/or the internet to access information about health and well-being, and health services, and determine any particular needs or characteristics of this group in accessing health care providers and information.

More than a quarter of the people living in Australia were born overseas (27% - ABS, 2010). Australia’s population is rapidly growing and many people arrive in the country every month. In addition, by 2020 there will be more people over retirement age than ever before and many of these people will need help and care from the health service. Chronic disease is also on the increase and this means that the future health workforce will have to meet more demand for their services than we have experienced in the past.

This has led many researchers and policy-makers to believe that telecommunications can play a key role in the delivery of health services. This study looked at the role telecommunications services can play in healthcare delivery by examining how individuals from a CALD community interact with healthcare providers.

Project outcomes

The study found an overall low use of telecommunications in a healthcare context by this group of CALD community health centre clients. Most survey respondents reported having access to landlines (78%) and mobile phones (56%) but just over one quarter had access to the internet (27%) and/or email (24%) in their homes with one quarter reporting they never use the internet. Landlines were reportedly used some of the time but not every day.  Mobile phones usage every day was slightly higher but overall access to mobile phones was lower. Just over one third of the participants (35%) reported using landlines to find health information. Around 22% reported using mobile phones to find health information and only 16% reported using the internet to find health information. Most of the participants (71%) reported that they do not use the internet to find health information and this is not surprising given the low rate of access to internet in the home. Conversely, most of the health professionals had access to all four types of telecommunication mentioned in the survey: landline, mobile phones, internet and email and used them regularly.

From this research, the following conclusions were drawn:

  • Access to and use of telecommunications remains very low in some communities
  • There are still people in Australia who are not using the internet to access health information
  • There are cultural perceptions of health that remain the same even after a period of settlement in Australia
  • Language is a significant challenge for health services and CALD communities, using interpreters is a big part of every interaction
  • Family members often act as mediators/interpreters and are sometimes the ones who use telecoms on the behalf of others

This has corresponding implications for healthcare service delivery and the associated policy. The authors make the following recommendations (among others):

  1. Health information, regardless of the medium for its delivery, must be culturally appropriate and available in a range of languages.
  2. Analyses of cultural preferences within eHealth must extend beyond simply focusing on access to telecommunications and take into account other factors such as availability and familiarity with technologies in countries of origin, and availability of translated information in Australia.
  3. Australia’s multicultural population will increasingly require bilingual, culturally-competent health workers who act as the bridge between the Australian health care system and CALD communities, regardless of whether face-to-face contact occurs.

ACCAN continues to make the report available for advocacy groups around Australia. Please contact us if you would like a hard copy.

Download: Telecommunications and Health info for multicultural Australia - Final.pdf [Adobe Acrobat PDF - 1.53 MB]

Download: Telecommunications and Health info for multicultural Australia -Final.docx [Word 2007 Document - 2.26 MB]