Difficult conversations: Australian Indigenous patients' views on kidney transplantation

Jeannie Devitt, Kate Anderson, Joan Cunningham, Cilla Preece, Paul Snelling, Alan Cass

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Background: Indigenous Australians suffer a disproportionate burden of end stage kidney disease (ESKD) but are significantly less likely to receive a transplant. This study explores Indigenous ESKD patients' views on transplantation as a treatment option.

Methods: The Improving Access to Kidney Transplants (IMPAKT) research program investigated barriers to kidney transplantation for Indigenous Australians. An interview study, conducted in 2005-2006, elicited illness experience narratives from 146 Indigenous patients, including views on transplant. Interviews were conducted at 26 sites that collectively treat the majority of Indigenous ESKD patients. Key themes were identified via team consensus meetings, providing a flexible framework and focus for continued coding.

Results: Four inter-related themes were identified in patient commentary: a very high level (90% of respondents) of positive interest in transplantation; patients experienced a range of communication difficulties and felt uninformed about transplant; family involvement in decision-making was constrained by inadequate information; and patients needed to negotiate cultural and social sensitivities around transplantation.

Conclusions: Indigenous ESKD patients demonstrated an intense interest in transplantation preferring deceased over living kidney donation. Patients believe transplant is the path most likely to support the re-establishment of their 'normal' family life. Patients described themselves as poorly informed; most had only a rudimentary knowledge of the notion of transplant but no understanding of eligibility criteria, the transplant procedure and associated risks. Patients experienced multiple communication barriers that - taken together - undermine their engagement in treatment decision-making. Families and communities are disempowered because they also lack information to reach a shared understanding of transplantation. Cultural sensitivities associated with transplantation were described but these did not appear to constrain patients in making choices about their own health. Transplant units and local treatment providers should collaborate to develop user-friendly, culturally informed and region-specific patient education programs. Quality improvement cycles should underpin the development of national guidelines for patient education. Noting Indigenous patients' intense interest in transplantation, and nephrologists' concerns regarding poor transplant outcomes, research should prioritise exploring the predictors of transplant outcomes for Indigenous Australians.

Original languageEnglish
Article number310
Pages (from-to)1-14
Number of pages14
JournalBMC Nephrology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 11 Oct 2017


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