4363.0 - National Health Survey: Users' Guide, 2014-15  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 31/07/2017   
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This topic refers to medications, vitamins, minerals and natural or herbal supplements taken by respondents in the 2 weeks prior to the survey interview.


Information was collected for all persons in the Medications module of the 2014-15 NHS and of respondents with specific long-term conditions such as heart and circulatory conditions, diabetes,


Information about medication used was published in Health Service Usage and Health related Actions, Australia, 2014-15 based on a sample of 19,259 people.

Information on general medication use was collected in the Medications module of the 2014-15 NHS. In addition, respondents were asked about medications used for specific long-term health conditions such as heart and circulatory conditions, diabetes, mental, behavioural and cognitive conditions in the relevant question module.

Medications module

Respondents were asked for the names or brands of all medications and dietary supplements (vitamins, minerals or natural or herbal supplements) they had taken in the last 2 weeks. Respondents were encouraged to have all of their medications and supplements in front of them during the interview to assist in reporting 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 later coded by office staff. Up to 50 different medications were able to be recorded.

If a respondent reported any type of asthma medication, they were asked how often asthma medication was taken in the last 2 weeks.

Coding of medications and supplements

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 AUSNUT 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:

  • Whether takes medication daily for heart or circulatory condition (persons with a current heart or circulatory condition).
  • Whether currently having insulin every day (persons with diabetes/high sugar levels)
  • Age started having insulin every day and name/brand of insulin (persons currently having insulin daily)
  • Other action taken to manage diabetes/high sugar levels in the last 2 weeks (persons with diabetes) (included taking vitamin/mineral supplements and taking natural/herbal treatments)
  • Types of medication taken for mental health conditions in the last 2 weeks (persons who reported having a mental or behavioural condition), including:
  • Sleeping tablets or capsules
  • Tablets or capsules for anxiety or nerves
  • Tranquillisers
  • Antidepressants
  • Mood stabilisers
  • Other medications for mental, behavioural or cognitive conditions.
and duration of use.

Data items

The questionnaire, data items and related output categories for this topic are available in pdf/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
  • 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 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 2011-12

General medication use data are considered to be directly comparable between the 2011-12 and 2014-15 NHS.

There are some differences in the way that medications used for specific long-term health conditions were collected in the 2014-15 NHS which may impact comparability of these items with 2011-12 NHS as outlined below:
  • Medication use for mental health conditions was collected in the new Mental, Behavioural and Cognitive conditions module in 2014-15 NHS, whereas in the 2011-12 NHS it was collected in the Long Term Conditions module (i.e. a mental health condition had to be identified in the Long Term Conditions module and the respondent was then asked about the types of medication taken for mental health conditions in the last 2 weeks, duration of use, and how often taken in last 2 weeks.
  • The 2014-15 NHS asks whether the respondent takes medication daily for their heart or circulatory condition, whereas in the 2011-12 NHS they were only asked whether they took aspirin
  • In the 2014-15 and 2011-12 NHS respondents were asked to provide information about all of the types of medications they were currently taking, including supplements and minerals. This differs from previous surveys in which respondents were asked to provide information about medication use for specific long-term health conditions only.