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Ealing Hospital A&E employs anthropologists to study patients for new one year project

Ealing Hospital and Northwick Park Hospital in nearby Harrow, part of the London North West University Healthcare NHS Trust, are set to become the first hospitals with an A&E department to use anthropology to help with understanding if and how cultural factors may shape people’s behaviours to illness and how they use healthcare services.

The one year project will have three doctors involved looking across the diverse communities that use services at Ealing Hospital and 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 and one area he is looking at is 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.”

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