Information on Indigenous people's access to and use of health services is important because of the link between health services and health outcomes. Lack of access to services can adversely impact on health outcomes and there is some evidence that Indigenous people do not have the same level of access to many health services as other Australians.
Health services include primary care services such as those provided by general practitioners (GPs), nurses and allied health professionals. They also include acute care provided in hospitals and specialist services, such as those provided by obstetricians and eye specialists. These services may be provided in a range of settings including community health centres and clinics, doctors’ rooms and hospitals.
There are a number of difficulties in quantifying the provision of, access to, and use of health services by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. The quality of administrative data sources is affected by the accuracy with which Indigenous people are identified in health service records. Administrative data are collected by providers of health services including the Australian, state, territory and local governments, community organisations and some private sector providers. For these reasons, it is difficult to accurately quantify the impact of access to services, or lack thereof, on the overall health status of people living in non-remote and remote areas.
This chapter draws on information from a number of data collections. Health expenditure patterns are used to examine health service provision by governments and utilisation of services by clients. Other aspects of access to health services include the distances clients must travel to services and facilities, financial barriers, cultural factors, such as language and communication issues, and the participation of Indigenous people in the health and welfare workforce. The chapter also provides information on the use of health services, including Australian Government funded Aboriginal primary health care services, services provided by GPs, alcohol and other drug treatment services, community mental health services and hospital services.
Further information on service utilisation is presented in chapters 4, 7 and 11.