Priorities for improved management of acute rheumatic fever and rheumatic heart disease: Analysis of cross-sectional continuous quality improvement data in Aboriginal primary healthcare centres in Australia

Judith M. Katzenellenbogen, Daniela Bond-Smith, Anna P. Ralph, Mathilda Wilmot, Julie Marsh, Ross Bailie, Veronica Matthews

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Objective: This study investigated the delivery of guideline-recommended services for the management of acute rheumatic fever (ARF) and rheumatic heart disease (RHD) in Australian primary healthcare centres participating in the Audit and Best Practice for Chronic Disease (ABCD) National Research Partnership project. 

Methods: ARF and RHD clinical audit data were collected from 63 Aboriginal centres in four Australian jurisdictions using the ABCD ARF/RHD audit tool. Records of up to 30 patients treated for ARF and/or RHD were analysed per centre from the most recent audit conducted between 2009 and 2014. The main outcome measure was a quality of ARF and RHD care composite indicator consisting of nine best-practice service items. 

Results: Of 1081 patients, most were Indigenous (96%), female (61%), from the Northern Territory and Queensland (97%) and <25 years of age (49%). The composite indicator was highest in the 0-14 year age group (77% vs 65-67% in other age groups). Timely injections and provision of client education are important specific areas for improvement. Multiple regression showed age >15 years to be a significant negative factor for several care indicators, particularly for the delivery of long-acting antibiotic injections and specialist services in the 15-24 year age group. 

Conclusions: The results suggest that timely injection and patient education are priorities for managing ARF and RHD, particularly focusing on child-to-adult transition care. 

What is known about the topic?: The burden of rheumatic fever and RHD in some Aboriginal communities is among the highest documented globally. Guideline-adherent RHD prevention and management in primary health care (PHC) settings are critically important to reduce this burden. Continuous quality improvement (CQI) is a proven strategy to improve guideline adherence, using audit cycles and proactive engagement of PHC end users with their own data. Previously, such CQI strategies using a systems approach were shown to improve delivery of ARF and RHD care in six Aboriginal health services (three government and three community controlled). 

What does this paper add?: This paper focuses on the variation across age groups in the quality of ARF and/or RHD care according to nine quality of care indicators across 63 PHC centres serving the Aboriginal population in the Northern Territory, Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia. These new findings provide insight into difference in quality of care by life stage, indicating particular areas for improvement of the management of ARF and RHD at the PHC level, and can act as a baseline for monitoring of care quality for ARF and RHD into the future. What are the implications for practitioners?: Management plans and innovative strategies or systems for improving adherence need to be developed as a matter of urgency. PHC professionals need to closely monitor adherence to secondary prophylaxis at both the clinic and individual level. RHD priority status needs to be assigned and recorded as a tool to guide management. Systems strengthening needs to particularly target child-to-adult transition care. Practitioners are urged to keep a quick link to the RHDAustralia website to access resources and guidelines pertaining to ARF and RHD (, accessed 3 October 2019). CQI strategies can assist PHC centres to improve the care they provide to patients.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)212-221
Number of pages10
JournalAustralian Health Review
Issue number2
Early online date29 Nov 2019
Publication statusPublished - 2020


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