It has been revealed that Northwick Park Hospital’s A&E department will be the first in the entire country to use anthropology to study ‘cultural factors that may be shaping people’s behaviours toward illness’ and use of healthcare services.
A&E at Northwick Park will run the year-long project, with the support of three doctors with an interest in anthropology, in one of the most culturally diverse areas in the UK – Brent.
Sixty-four per cent of Brent’s population comes from Black, Asian and minority ethnic groups with representation from more than 200 countries. The team hopes to identify repeating patterns of behaviour among groups that may be resolved with more targeted medical and non-medical interventions.
A&E consultant Paul Tanto will lead the research at Northwick Park Hospital with an initial focus on the large number of young people coming into A&E complaining of chest pains, despite their age precluding the likelihood of a heart attack.
Paul said: “The majority are given a clean bill of health but something is obviously going on, and a lot of time and resources are being used for medical investigation. We often look at illness as a purely physical ailment without looking at the bigger picture. If we can identify a cause, we can deliver better treatment as well as reduce the cost of heart-related tests.”
Holly Coltart joined the department earlier this summer having recently completed an MA in anthropology in the United States and is one of the three junior doctors involved in the project.
Holly said: “Medical anthropology is well established in America and I jumped at the chance when the post was advertised. It offers a new approach to quality improvement in the emergency department. We’re excited to be part of such an innovative project”.
Paul added: “There is no point doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. You need to be constantly looking at how to improve services and patient care. Some things work and some things don’t, but you never know until you try. The initial clues will be in the medical data we collect and analyse. This will help us identify the demographics, such as patient age, gender and ethnicity, and when, why and what they come into A&E for.”.
Studies undertaken by medical anthropologists elsewhere in the world include research into the impact of AIDS on Central African societies, the effect of migration on the mental health of refugees, and the trauma suffered by families living in war zones.
“I’ve been interested in this topic for a few years and it is obvious there are trends and patterns being repeated in A&E without even looking at the data. Our aim is to have a better understanding of our patients so we can improve outcomes and make better use of resources. At present, we carry out around 3,000 tests for suspected heart conditions a month,” added Paul.