Purpose: To investigate the successful strategies of health workers who support and regularly communicate with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people about cancer and its treatment.
Methods: Semi-structured interviews were conducted face-to face or via telephone and audio-recorded with twenty-three health professionals (medical and radiation oncologists, oncology nurses and Aboriginal Health Workers), 5 identifying as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander in the Northern Territory and South Australia. When data saturation was reached, thematic analysis using a bottom up, essentialist/realist approach was used.
Results: Six themes emerged. (1) Create a safe environment, engender trust and build rapport. This involves considering the physical environment and allowing time in interviews to establish a relationship. (2) Employ specific communication strategies to explain cancer, treatment and its side effects through language choices and employing visual aids such as drawings, metaphors and relatable analogies. (3) Obtain support from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff and patient escorts who can assist in communication. (4) Consider culture which involves collective decision making, strong connection to country and community, with cultural obligations and a unique understanding of cancer. (5) Anticipate the contextual complexities of conflicts between Western medicine and Aboriginal culture, practitioner bias and difficulty maintaining contact with patients. (6) Develop personal qualities of good communicators, including being patient-centred, showing respect, patience, empathy and honesty.
Conclusion: These insights will help foster more positive interactions with the health system and promote optimal outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with cancer.