People from migrant and refugee backgrounds are less represented in medical research, yet the results are applied across the population. So how do we change this to get better representation at the research stage, to know that new research benefits everyone?

The Health Issues Centre (HIC) and Melbourne Academic Centre for Health (MACH) teamed up to understand how best to engage with two specific migrant and refugee populations. The research was funded through a grant from the Office of Health and Medical Research, DHHS, with the aim to gain insights into how medical research is viewed and what the barriers or enablers are to participating from a cultural and technological perspective. The two communities identified were Italian Australians and Vietnamese Australians, with a focus on older people and their families.

The researchers tested a range of engagement methods from social media through to going out in person to community organisations and groups to encourage people to respond to a short survey. Unsurprisingly in person interactions were the most effective but proved challenging as the research was conducted during the Covid 19 pandemic which for Victoria entailed lengthy lockdowns in which many social and community groups ground to a halt.

Social media proved a somewhat useful tool, but this was dependent on how and where it was used.  Firstly, paid advertisements were trialed to the target audience but this had low response rate to the survey, more effective was working with local community agencies to use their social media platforms to promote the research. The community agencies social media was more effective as they already have a relationship with the audience.

Overall community agencies were successful at connecting to the community as they have a deep understanding of the culture and could bridge the health and community divide to give real insights into effective engagement.

So how is medical research viewed by the Italian Australian and Vietnamese Australian community?  Across the board people generally understand that medical research is a good thing for the community at large and for their own health as well, however people were somewhat less enthusiastic about participating in medical research themselves if they had no prior experience of medical research. In fact, there was a small but adamant group that struggled to see any benefits of medical research, although for context, the timing of their engagement came whilst the Covid 19 vaccines were being rolled out in Australia and concern with vaccines featured heavily in the news cycle.

Further whilst many respondents indicated a degree of awareness and use of technologies, it was unclear how comfortable they are using these technologies. But if technology is to play a role in how we engage and provide information it will be important to understand how older members of the community interact with it.

To learn more, the executive summary and full report can be viewed here.