Building patient trust in health systems: A qualitative study of facework in the context of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Worker role in Queensland, Australia

Stephanie M. Topp, Josslyn Tully, Rachel Cummins, Veronica Graham, Aryati Yashadhana, Lana Elliott, Sean Taylor

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Abstract

Healthcare services in Australia are the primary responsibility of state and territory governments, which recruit and deploy health providers in hospital and primary-care services. Among the various health professional roles, that of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Worker (A&TSIHW) is one of only two positions that must be occupied by an Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander person, carrying unique responsibility for enacting cultural brokerage and promoting cultural safety at the facility-level. Implicit to these responsibilities is the assumption that A&TSIHW will use cultural capital to build clients' trust in themselves and ultimately the broader health system. Drawing on 82 in-depth interviews including 52 with A&TSIHWs, we applied Kroegar's Facework theory to explore the structures, processes and relationships that contribute to, or inhibit, A&TISHWs' capacity and willingness to build trust (beyond themselves) in government health services in Queensland, Australia. Analysis demonstrates that despite A&TSIHWs viewing and enacting interpersonal trust-building as central to their role, structural features of the health system inhibit the development of service-users' system-level trust. Findings re-establish that health systems are not ‘cultureless,’ but rather, shaped by a dominant culture that privileges certain actors, types of knowledge, and modes of communication and action, which in turn influence efforts to build trust. The study demonstrates a novel theory-driven approach to exploring the interactions between behavioural and structural factors that influence the production of systems-level trust. In the context of the Queensland public health service findings highlight a disconnect between the expectations of, and support provided to A&TISHWs to engage Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander service-users.

Original languageEnglish
Article number114984
Pages (from-to)1-10
Number of pages10
JournalSocial Science and Medicine
Volume302
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2022

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