The conduct of Australian Indigenous primary health care research focusing on social and emotional wellbeing: a systematic review

By Sara Farnbach, Anne-Maree Eades, Josephine D Gwynn, Nick Glozier, Maree L Hackett

Objectives and importance of study: Values and ethics: guidelines for ethical conduct in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health research (Values and ethics) describes key values that should underpin Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (Indigenous)–focused health research. It is unclear how research teams address this document in primary health care research. We systematically review the primary health care literature focusing on Indigenous social and emotional wellbeing (SEWB) to identify how Values and ethics and community preferences for standards of behaviour (local protocols) are addressed during research.

Study type:  Systematic review in accordance with PRISMA Guidelines and MOOSE Guidelines for Meta-Analyses and Systematic Reviews of Observational Studies.

Methods: We searched four databases and one Indigenous-specific website for qualitative, quantitative and mixed-method studies published since Values and ethics was implemented (2003). Included studies were conducted in primary health care services, focused on Indigenous SEWB and were conducted by research teams. Using standard data extraction forms, we identified actions taken (reported by authors or identified by us) relating to Values and ethics and local protocols.

Results: A total of 25 studies were included. Authors of two studies explicitly mentioned the Values and ethics document, but neither reported how their actions related to the document’s values. In more than half the studies, we identified at least three actions relating to the values. Some actions related to multiple values, including use of culturally sensitive research processes and involving Indigenous representatives in the research team. Local protocols were rarely reported.

Conclusion: Addressing Values and ethics appears to improve research projects. The academic community should focus on culturally sensitive research processes, relationship building and developing the Indigenous research workforce, to facilitate acceptable research that affects health outcomes. For Values and ethics to achieve its full impact and to improve learning between research teams, authors should be encouraged to report how the principles are addressed during research, including barriers and enablers that are encountered.

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