4363.0.55.001 - Australian Health Survey: Users' Guide, 2011-13  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 26/03/2013   
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Contents >> Health related actions >> Use of medications



This topic refers to medications, vitamins, minerals and supplements taken by respondents in the 2 weeks prior to the survey interview.


Information was collected for all persons in the NHS.


Information on medication use was collected in two modules in the NHS, one which asked about general medication use and the other which asked about medication use for specific long-term health conditions.

Medications module

Respondents were asked for the names or brands of all medications and dietary supplements they had taken in the last 2 weeks. Respondents were encouraged to have all of their medications in front of them during the interview to assist in recording the information.

Interviewers recorded the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) identification number of each medication taken by the respondent. These were either:

  • AUST R medicines - which include all prescription medications and many over-the-counter products such as those used for pain relief, coughs and colds and antiseptic creams; or
  • AUST L medicines - which are generally lower risk self-medication products which include vitamins, minerals, and herbal and homoeopathic products.

For medications without an AUST R or AUST L code (for example, medications obtained overseas), interviewers were able to record details of the medication which were then later coded by office staff. Up to 50 different medications were able to be recorded.

The therapeutic substances people reported were coded as either ‘medications’ or as ‘dietary supplements’

The medications were coded, based on their active ingredient(s) and their therapeutic application, to the World Health Organisation Anatomical Therapeutic Chemical (ATC) classification system. Dietary supplements have been coded to a classification adapted from the food classification by Food Standards Australian New Zealand (FSANZ).

It should be noted that this categorisation of substances as either medications or dietary supplements has been adopted for the purposes of describing data collected in the survey and should not be assumed to be an exact description of the contents of either category. For example, while the ATC includes codes for vitamins and minerals and other dietary supplements, such supplements were coded to the FSANZ supplements classification.

For the purpose of this survey, dietary supplements included: vitamins, minerals, herbal extracts (including Chinese herbs), amino acids, omega 3 fatty acids, other fatty acids and glucosamine/chondroitin formulations.

Medications used for specific long-term health conditions

Questions on medication use were also asked in relation to specific long-term health conditions. These included:

  • use of aspirin on a daily basis for persons who reported having a heart or circulatory condition(s), and whether they had been advised by a doctor to do so;
  • use of insulin on a daily basis for persons who reported having diabetes/high sugar levels, the name/brand of insulin, and at what age they started having insulin every day; and
  • use of selected medications for mental and/or behavioural conditions, including:
    • sleeping tablets or capsules;
    • tablets or capsules for anxiety or nerves;
    • tranquillisers;
    • antidepressants;
    • mood stabilisers; and
    • other medications for mental health.

Data items

Data items and related output categories for this topic will be available in Excel spreadsheet format from the Downloads page of this product.


Points to be considered when interpreting data for this topic include the following:
  • Information is ‘as reported’ by respondents. This may have implications for the extent to which certain types of medication were reported (e.g. tranquillisers);
  • While respondents were encouraged to collect their medications to assist in recall, this did not always occur, which may have led to some medications not being reported, or being reported incorrectly;
  • There were over 5,000 different AUST R medications reported in the survey. While care was taken to ensure accuracy of coding medications to the ATC, there may be instances where this was not achieved; for example, for medications containing multiple active ingredients, or medications containing ingredients used for more than one therapeutic application;
  • Whether a medication was prescribed or not was not recorded;
  • A small number of medications (less than 200) presented by respondents were not able to be coded to the ATC and were not included in output data. This is expected to have negligible effect on accuracy of results.

Comparability with 2007-08

While the 2007-08 NHS collected information about all medications taken for conditions within the National Health Priority Areas, the 2011-12 NHS asked about all medications without any association between the medication and the condition it was treating. However, within three of the condition-specific actions modules in 2011-12 NHS, some questions regarding specific medications were asked. These are:
  • aspirin (for cardiovascular conditions);
  • insulin (for diabetes); and
  • sleeping tablets, medications for anxiety or nerves, tranquilisers, antidepressants, mood stabilisers and other mental health medications (for mental and behavioural conditions).

Because these classes of medications were asked about directly in 2011-12, caution should be used in making comparisons between surveys regarding the use of these medications for their respective conditions.

See the National Health Survey: Users' Guide, 2007-08 (cat. no. 4363.0.55.001) for more information.

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