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Written By

Andrew Cramb

College of Medicine and Dentistry

Publish Date

14 October 2021

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The wide-spread impact of ear infections in rural Queensland

Our ability to hear connects us to others and the world around us. The loss of hearing is shown to have a huge impact on your health and education outcomes and your overall quality of life. Like many health problems in Australia, hearing loss and ear infections disproportionately affect our rural, remote, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

The rates of otitis media – otherwise known as middle ear infection – are reported at 50% of the population in remote communities. It’s reached the stage where poor ear health in Australia has been recognised by the World Health Organization as a major public health problem. JCU Remote Pharmacy Academic Selina Taylor works at the Murtupuni Centre for Rural and Remote Health (CRRH) in Mount Isa, and she has seen and felt the impact of ear infections.

“Ear disease and its impact on quality of life is an enormous burden,” Selina says. “Hearing disruption in all people, particularly Indigenous populations, results in a loss of communicative ability, social disconnection, limited educational and employment opportunities, and high rates of incarceration.

“I've had issues with hearing loss and ear infections. I know the battle people go through trying to get through the hurdles associated with accessing good-quality ear care,” Selina says.

Selina and Mount Isa community pharmacists
Pharmacist conducts an ear examination
Left: Selina (far right) with pharmacist Glory-Anne Leaupepe and Pharmacist Manger Shana Valentine from Pharmacy First. Right: community pharmacist conducts ear examination

Researching a community pharmacy based solution

Selina is currently undertaking a PhD research project through JCU to explore how the expanding scope of practice for the pharmacy profession in Australia could be used to address ear conditions.

“Expanded practice for rural community pharmacists is a topic close to home for me. I’ve been in positions as a community pharmacist where I’ve had the skills and knowledge to do more for a patient but have been restricted by my scope of practice.

“In rural and remote communities, community pharmacists are a permanent workforce of highly trained health professionals with a passion for improving healthcare. These pharmacists are the backbone of rural health, and they are well-placed to expand the scope of practice and reduce disease,” Selina Taylor, JCU Remote Pharmacy Academic.

Selina has designed and developed a study protocol in which community pharmacists were trained in ear examination and diagnostic procedures. Then, when a patient presented to their local community pharmacy with an ear complaint, the pharmacist could conduct an examination and follow a protocol to recommend either no treatment, a pharmacy product, or a direct referral to the GP.

“During the pilot, a third of the participants were indigenous, a third had already tried to see the GP but couldn't get an appointment. Half of them were planning on attending the emergency department. After consultation 100% agreed that next time they had a complaint, they would attend the community pharmacy rather than the GP first.

“Our study has demonstrated the value of integrated referral pathways to GPs, the importance of immediate access to care and the high level of confidence between community pharmacies and their local communities,” Selina says.

From her research, Selina hopes similar models may be developed in consultation with rural and remote communities to improve access to health care and health outcomes. To date, she has had 11 papers accepted for publication and another under review. She is currently in the process of preparing her thesis for submission.

“There was a ‘wow factor’ with our first publication,” Selina says. “The impact of the study hit home when doing the follow-up phone calls with patients. Hearing how grateful they were for the service and how much of an impact being seen by the pharmacist had on their health was so rewarding,” Selina says.

Recently, Selina presented her work as part of 3-Minute Thesis (3MT), a competition in which PhD students and early career researchers condense years of research into a three minute, easy to understand presentation. Selina was the 3MT winner for JCU’s College of Medicine and Dentistry and presented at a university-wide competition.

“The 3MT wasn’t something I originally considered. When you’re doing a PhD, working, and raising three young boys, it’s hard to think about anything else! But the process of entering was relatively easy, and it’s enabled me to increase the visibility of the research. I would like to thank Professor Beverly Glass, my PhD Primary Supervisor for giving me the little push to enter 3MT and for her encouragement and support.” Selina said.

Selina is a big advocate for the role pharmacists play in the health of our regional, rural and remote communities. Read more from Selina on the opportunities, impact and lifestyle on offer in a career in pharmacy.

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