Cultural safety in health care results in improved outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s health and wellbeing. Identification is a key element in providing a culturally safe environment as it encourages the service to consider how it engages with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander patients. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Australian Indigenous Doctors' Association (AIDA) members witnessed incidents of racism related to patient identification.
- A patient who identified as Aboriginal was denied testing for COVID-19. The justification for this denial was that priority testing would only be offered to “real” Aboriginal people. Incidents like these highlight the need to improve the cultural safety of all healthcare workers and that increasing community education about why asking all patients whether they identify as being of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander origin is vital.
- In healthcare, formal identification through the three-part Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander confirmation process is not appropriate and should not be used by providers for patients. Appropriately training all workers and ensuring the standard question is asked of all patients, irrespective of country of birth, age, appearance, clothing, language, or other characteristics is vital.
- The National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Plan 2013-2023 acknowledges that accurate data is needed to properly monitor health outcomes and redress systemic racism in the healthcare system. Underidentification of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander patients is a key issue in data collection, resulting in data gaps that may impede policy development and service provision, and inadequate planning and resourcing for First Nations people during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- In a pandemic, data sovereignty relates to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people knowing and having control over the intellectual property of testing data and knowing where the data is held, who is using it and for what purpose. The rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to exercise self-determination in the use and maintenance of data must be upheld.