COH wins 2021 National Engagement Australia award

1 December 2021

Professor Anthony Smith and his team have received the 2021 Excellence in Indigenous Engagement award, recognising more than two decades of telehealth experience supporting some of Australia’s most remote communities.

In accepting the Engagement Australia award, Professor Anthony Smith, Director of the University of Queensland’s Centre for Online Health (COH), said creating telehealth services for remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities has been one of his most rewarding research experiences.

“Working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities is a privilege, and we have formed many wonderful partnerships with organisations throughout Queensland,” Professor Smith said.

“This award reflects the success that we have achieved together, which has positively changed the lives of many, by making services more accessible through the use of telehealth.”

In 2005, Professor Smith was invited to a community meeting with the health service in Cherbourg, north-west of Brisbane, where he learned about concerns over high numbers of children with ear disease and hearing problems.

Professor Smith said the meeting led them to co-design a telehealth-enabled ear screening service for local schools.

“Less than two years later, we secured funding to build a mobile screening clinic, called Health-e-Screen4Kids, and set the groundwork for a senior Aboriginal health worker to be employed as the service coordinator.”

“This work marked the beginning of a remarkable partnership with the Cherbourg community, and over time we continue to learn from the experience.”

The Cherbourg service has recorded several milestones since its launch:

  • More than 4500 children living in the Cherbourg region have had routine ear screening assessments
  • About one third of all children screened were diagnosed with a hearing problem and referred to local health services or a specialist for treatment and follow up care
  • Overall, screening rates have more than doubled from around 38% to over 80%
  • Anecdotally, more children are progressing to senior years because of better classroom experiences through improved hearing.

Telehealth projects led by the COH have also been designed to assist people living with diabetes and dementia.

Professor Smith said close partnerships with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health services have extended to community-based organisations in Dalby, Charleville, Cunnamulla and the Torres Strait Islands.

“We are grateful for the support we receive from Queensland Health, the Commonwealth Government and the Queensland Aboriginal and Islander Health Council (QAIHC),” Professor Smith said.   

“Whilst it is important to reflect on the remarkable experiences of the past 15 years, we are more excited about what will be achieved over the next 15 years.

“We look forward to seeing the continued transformation of healthcare into models of care which are culturally appropriate, innovative, community-led and focussed on the people.”

The above video titled: DREAMT: Using telehealth to support Torres Strait Islander people with dementia is an example of the work Professor Smith and his team conducts in partnership with Australian Indigenous communities.