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Patient Experiences in Australia: Summary of Findings

Contains data on access and barriers to, and experiences of, healthcare services including GPs, specialists, dental professionals, hospitals and EDs.

Reference period
2020-21 financial year

Key statistics

  • 17.3% of people needed to see a health professional for their mental health and, of these, 34.3% delayed or did not see one when needed
  • 28.8% of people had a telehealth consultation for their own health
  • 12.2% of people delayed or did not see a dental professional when needed due to COVID-19

Health service use

General practitioners (GPs) continued to be the most common health professionals seen in 2020-21.

The proportion of people who saw a medical specialist increased to 37.4% in 2020-21 from 36.0% in 2019-20.

There was a decrease in health service use in 2020-21 compared to 2019-20 for those who:

  • saw a GP (82.4% compared to 83.2%)
  • saw a dental professional (47.9% compared to 49.5%)
  • visited a hospital emergency department (ED) (13.4% compared to 14.4%)
  • saw an after hours GP (5.1% compared to 7.1%).

 Health service use in 2020-21 remained similar to 2019-20 for those who:

  • had a pathology test (58.4% compared to 58.1%)
  • had an imaging test (37.7% compared to 38.3%)
  • were admitted to hospital (12.5% compared to 12.5%)
  • saw a GP for urgent medical care (8.2% compared to 8.3%).

See Table 1 in Data downloads section.

By sex

Females were more likely than males to:

  • see a GP (87.2% compared to 77.4%)
  • have a pathology test (64.7% compared to 51.9%)
  • see a dental professional (51.6% compared to 44.0%)
  • have an imaging test (43.5% compared to 31.5%)
  • see a medical specialist (41.0% compared to 33.8%)
  • visit a hospital ED (14.4% compared to 12.4%)
  • be admitted to hospital (14.4% compared to 10.4%)
  • see a GP for urgent medical care (9.5% compared to 7.0%)
  • see an after hours GP (6.1% compared to 4.1%).

By age

People aged 85 years and over were more likely than those aged 15-24 years to:

  • see a GP (94.8% compared to 71.2%)
  • have a pathology test (76.9% compared to 38.3%)
  • see a medical specialist (57.2% compared to 24.9%)
  • have an imaging test (47.3% compared to 25.3%)
  • be admitted to hospital (25.1% compared to 6.5%)
  • visit a hospital ED (21.5% compared to 13.6%).

(a) Excludes tests conducted in hospital.

(b) Excludes tests conducted in hospital and dental imaging tests.

By long-term health condition

People with a long-term health condition were more likely than those without a long-term health condition to:

  • see a GP (93.8% compared to 70.1%)
  • have a pathology test (74.1% compared to 41.5%)
  • see a medical specialist (53.6% compared to 20.0%)
  • see a dental professional (49.8% compared to 45.8%)
  • have an imaging test (49.6% compared to 24.8%)
  • visit a hospital ED (18.5% compared to 7.9%)
  • be admitted to hospital (17.7% compared to 6.8%)
  • see a GP for urgent medical care (12.4% compared to 3.8%)
  • see an after hours GP (6.4% compared to 3.8%).

By Index of relative socio-economic disadvantage

People living in areas of least socio-economic disadvantage were more likely than those living in areas of most disadvantage to:

  • see a dental professional (59.0% compared to 37.7%)
  • see a medical specialist (41.0% compared to 36.9%).

People living in areas of most socio-economic disadvantage were more likely than those living in areas of least disadvantage to:

  • visit a hospital ED (16.9% compared to 11.5%)
  • be admitted to hospital (15.0% compared to 11.7%).

By Remoteness

People living in major cities were more likely than those living in outer regional, remote or very remote areas to:

  • see a dental professional (49.8% compared to 38.9%)
  • see a medical specialist (37.7% compared to 35.1%)
  • see an after hours GP (5.8% compared to 3.6%).

People living in outer regional, remote or very remote areas were more likely to visit a hospital ED than those living in major cities (17.3% compared to 12.2%).

See Tables 2.3 and 3.2 in Data downloads section.

Waiting times

The proportion of people waiting longer than they felt acceptable for a medical specialist appointment was 21.7%, compared to 16.6% of people waiting for a GP appointment.

Those living in outer regional, remote or very remote areas were more likely to report waiting longer than they felt acceptable for an appointment than those living in major cities:

  • medical specialist appointment (26.6% compared to 21.4%)
  • GP appointment (22.9% compared to 15.2%).

People with a long-term health condition were more likely to report waiting longer than they felt acceptable for an appointment than those without a long-term health condition:

  • medical specialist appointment (23.3% compared to 16.9%)
  • GP appointment (18.7% compared to 13.5%).

People living in areas of most socio-economic disadvantage were more likely to report waiting longer than they felt acceptable for a GP appointment than those living in areas of least disadvantage (18.7% compared to 14.1%).

The proportion of people who waited for 24 hours or more to see a GP for urgent medical care increased to 33.9% in 2020-21 from 29.8% in 2019-20.

Similar waiting times were reported in 2020-21 compared to 2019-20 for:

  • seen within 4 hours (55.8% compared to 59.4%)
  • waited for 4 to 24 hours (10.6% compared to 10.8%).

People living in major cities were more likely to be seen by a GP for urgent medical care within 4 hours than those living in outer regional, remote or very remote areas (57.3% compared to 49.1%).

See Tables 5.3, 6.2, 11.3 and 12.2 in Data downloads section.

Barriers to health service use

The proportion of people who reported that cost was a reason for delaying or not using a health service when needed decreased compared to 2019-20:

  • dental professionals (14.8% compared to 18.7%)
  • medical specialists (5.9% compared to 8.0%)
  • GPs (2.4% compared to 3.7%).

See Tables 4, 10 and 14.3 in Data downloads section.

People with a long-term health condition were more likely to delay or not use the following health services when needed due to cost than those without a long-term health condition:

  • dental professionals (18.1% compared to 10.6%)
  • medical specialists (6.4% compared to 4.4%)
  • GPs (3.1% compared to 1.3%).

People living in areas of most socio-economic disadvantage were more likely to delay or not see a dental professional when needed due to cost than those living in areas of least disadvantage (20.6% compared to 9.6%).

Those living in major cities were more likely to delay or not see a medical specialist when needed due to cost than those living in outer regional, remote or very remote areas (6.4% compared to 4.6%).

The following people were more likely to delay getting or go without prescription medication when needed due to cost:

  • those living in areas of most socio-economic disadvantage than those living in areas of least disadvantage (5.9% compared to 3.7%)
  • those with a long-term health condition than those without a long-term health condition (5.4% compared to 2.1%).

See Tables 6.2, 12.2 and 15.2 in Data downloads section.

Experience with health professionals

People who needed to and saw a health professional in 2020-21 generally reported more positive experiences compared to 2019-20.

People reported the most positive experiences with dental professionals and the least positive experiences with hospital ED doctors and specialists.

The proportion of health professionals who always listened carefully, compared to 2019-20 was:

  • dental professionals (88.1% compared to 86.0%)
  • hospital nurses (81.2% compared to 78.6%)
  • medical specialists (80.9% compared to 80.6%)
  • hospital doctors and specialists (79.6% compared to 76.0%)
  • GPs (77.2% compared to 75.5%)
  • hospital ED nurses (77.2% compared to 75.0%)
  • hospital ED doctors and specialists (71.1% compared to 69.4%).

The proportion of health professionals who always showed respect, compared to 2019-20 was:

  • dental professionals (90.6% compared to 89.2%)
  • medical specialists (85.2% compared to 83.8%)
  • hospital nurses (83.6% compared to 80.9%)
  • GPs (83.5% compared to 82.0%)
  • hospital doctors and specialists (82.0% compared to 79.6%)
  • hospital ED nurses (79.8% compared to 77.5%)
  • hospital ED doctors and specialists (75.7% compared to 74.2%).

The proportion of health professionals who always spent enough time with people, compared to 2019-20 was:

  • dental professionals (90.3% compared to 89.0%)
  • medical specialists (81.8% compared to 80.4%)
  • hospital nurses (79.9% compared to 76.3%)
  • GPs (77.9% compared to 76.2%)
  • hospital doctors and specialists (77.4% compared to 74.5%)
  • hospital ED nurses (73.3% compared to 71.7%)
  • hospital ED doctors and specialists (69.1% compared to 67.1%).

Males reported more positive experiences with hospital ED doctors and specialists than females:

  • always listened to carefully (76.9% compared to 66.5%)
  • always shown respect (80.5% compared to 71.7%)
  • always had enough time spent with them (75.5% compared to 63.9%).

People aged 85 years and over also reported more positive experiences with hospital ED doctors and specialists than those aged 25-34 years:

  • always listened to carefully (84.1% compared to 62.0%)
  • always shown respect (88.7% compared to 65.9%)
  • always had enough time spent with them (83.6% compared to 59.0%).

See Tables 5.3, 11.3, 14.3, 17.2 and 20.2 in Data downloads section.

Coordination of care

The proportion of people who saw three or more health professionals for the same condition was similar in 2020-21 compared to 2019-20 (16.5% compared to 16.6%).

Of these people:

  • 73.6% reported that at least one health professional helped coordinate their care
  • 13.1% reported that there were issues caused by a lack of communication between health professionals.

Of those who received coordination of their care, 57.9% reported that GPs helped most in coordinating their care.

People with a long-term health condition were more likely than those without a long-term health condition to:

  • see three or more health professionals (25.6% compared to 6.6%)
  • receive coordination of care (75.9% compared to 64.3%)
  • report issues caused by a lack of communication between health professionals (14.2% compared to 8.6%).

See Tables 1, 22 and 24.2 in Data downloads section.

Private health insurance

The proportion of people with private health insurance increased to 58.1% in 2020-21 from 56.5% in 2019-20. Both hospital and extras cover continued to be the most common type of private health insurance (46.7%).

Characteristics of people with private health insurance cover included:

  • 60.7% were living in major cities
  • 60.7% rated their health as excellent, very good or good
  • 57.1% had a long-term health condition
  • 35.9% were living in areas of most socio-economic disadvantage.

The proportion of people with private health insurance varied based on where they lived:

  • 60.7% of people who were living in major cities had private health insurance compared to 52.4% who were living in inner regional areas and 49.9% who were living in outer regional, remote or very remote areas
  • 35.9% of people who were living in areas of most socio-economic disadvantage had private health insurance compared to 77.9% who were living in areas of least disadvantage.

(a) 2016 Index of Relative Socio-Economic Disadvantage: A lower Index of Disadvantage quintile (e.g. the first quintile) indicates relatively greater disadvantage and a lack of advantage in general. A higher Index of Disadvantage (e.g. the fifth quintile) indicates a relative lack of disadvantage and greater advantage in general.

See Tables 1 and 3.2 in Data downloads section.

Impact of COVID-19 on health service use and private health insurance cover

The 2020-21 Patient Experience Survey included new questions about those who delayed or did not use health services when needed, or cancelled or paused their private health insurance cover, at any time in the last 12 months due to COVID-19.  

These questions aimed to provide a better understanding of the impacts of COVID-19 on health service use.

The proportion of people who reported that they delayed or did not use the following health services when needed due to COVID-19 was:

  • dental professionals (12.2%)
  • GPs (9.8%)
  • after hours GPs (7.3%)
  • medical specialists (7.3%). 

Females were more likely to delay or not use the following health services when needed due to COVID-19 than males:

  • dental professionals (14.4% compared to 9.4%)
  • GPs (12.5% compared to 6.8%)
  • after hours GPs (8.5% compared to 5.4%)
  • medical specialists (8.4% compared to 6.0%).

People aged 25-34 years were more likely to delay or not use the following health services when needed due to COVID-19 than those aged 85 years and over:

  • dental professionals (12.9% compared to 7.0%)
  • GPs (12.0% compared to 5.8%)
  • medical specialists (7.0% compared to 3.1%).

People with a long-term health condition were more likely to delay or not use the following health services when needed due to COVID-19 than those without a long-term health condition:

  • dental professionals (13.5% compared to 10.5%)
  • GPs (12.0% compared to 6.7%)
  • after hours GPs (9.3% compared to 3.8%)
  • medical specialists (7.9% compared to 5.7%).

Those living in major cities were more likely to delay or not use the following health services when needed due to COVID-19 than those living in outer regional, remote or very remote areas:

  • dental professionals (13.2% compared to 7.4%)
  • GPs (10.3% compared to 8.0%).

Around one in 100 people (1.1%) reported that they cancelled or paused private health insurance cover due to COVID-19 in the last 12 months.

See Tables 25.3 and 26.2 in Data downloads section.

Treatment of telehealth services reported in 2020-21 Patient Experience Survey

In 2020-21 Patient Experience Survey, wording of the primary modules was left unchanged in order to maintain comparability of items for time series reporting. It is therefore possible that some respondents may not have considered telehealth when answering these questions as they were not expressly asked to include such appointments in the question wording. However, interviewers were instructed to include telehealth consultations/services in relation to GPs, after hours GPs, medical specialists, mental health professionals and coordination of care if queried by the respondent.

Experience of telehealth services

The 2020-21 Patient Experience Survey included new questions about those who used telehealth services to better understand the impacts of COVID-19 on health service use.

Over a quarter (28.8%) of people had at least one telehealth consultation for their own health in the last 12 months. 

The highest proportion of people who had at least one telehealth consultation were females aged 65-74 years (38.0%).

In the last 12 months:

  • 23.6% had a telehealth consultation with a GP
  • 7.5% had a telehealth consultation with a medical specialist.

The following people were more likely to have a telehealth consultation:

  • those with a long-term health condition than those without a long-term health condition (40.1% compared to 16.5%)
  • those aged 65-74 years than those aged 15-24 years (35.8% compared to 21.4%)
  • females than males (35.0% compared to 22.2%)
  • those living in inner regional areas and major cities than those living in outer regional, remote or very remote areas (30.4% and 29.1% compared to 22.9%).

Of people who had a telehealth consultation:

  • 84.4% reported that telehealth practitioners always listened carefully
  • 86.7% reported that telehealth practitioners always showed respect
  • 83.4% reported that telehealth practitioners always spent enough time with them.

People aged 75-84 years reported more positive experiences with telehealth practitioners than those aged 25-34 years:

  • always listened to carefully (91.5% compared to 80.5%)
  • always shown respect (92.6% compared to 83.6%)
  • always had enough time spent with them (90.6% compared to 78.1%).  

Whether would use telehealth again

Of those who had a telehealth consultation, 83.4% reported that they would use telehealth for a consultation again if it was offered.

See Tables 27.3 and 28.2 in Data downloads section.

Experience of mental health services

Use of mental health professionals

The 2020-21 Patient Experience Survey for the first time asked people about their use of mental health services in the last 12 months.

Of all people, 15.8% saw at least one health professional for their own mental health in 2020-21:

  • 12.1% saw a GP for their own mental health
  • 7.4% saw a psychologist
  • 2.2% saw a psychiatrist
  • 2.1% saw an other mental health professional such as a mental health nurse, social worker, counsellor or occupational therapist.

Of people who saw a health professional for their own mental health in 2020-21, 30.5% did so at least once using a telehealth service.

By sex

Females were more likely to see a health professional for their own mental health in 2020-21 than males (20.0% compared to 11.3%).

Females were more likely than males to:

  • see a GP for their own mental health (15.6% compared to 8.5%)
  • see a psychologist (9.4% compared to 5.2%).

By age

Younger people were more likely to see a health professional for their own mental health than older people:

  • 20.7% of people aged 15-24 years saw a health professional for their own mental health compared to 8.7% of people aged 65 years and over.

(a) Includes mental health nurse, social worker, counsellor or occupational therapist.

Source: Patient Experience, Australia, 2020-21, Table 29.3 and Customised data.

Barriers

The 2020-21 Patient Experience Survey asked people whether they delayed or did not see a health professional for their own mental health when needed.

Of all people, 17.3% reported needing to see a health professional for their own mental health. Of these, 34.3% delayed or did not see a health professional on at least one occasion when needed, and 8.9% did not see a health professional at all when needed.

The proportion of people who delayed or did not see a health professional varied according to the type of health professional needed:

  • 25.1% of people who needed to see a GP
  • 37.9% of people who needed to see a psychologist
  • 38.2% of people who needed to see a psychiatrist
  • 33.1% of people who needed to see an other mental health professional.

The survey also asked about the reasons why people delayed or did not see a health professional for their own mental health. Of all people who needed to see any type of health professional for their own mental health, 12.0% reported that cost was a reason for delaying or not seeing a health professional.

The proportion of people who delayed or did not see a health professional for their own mental health when needed due to cost varied according to the type of health professional:

  • 5.8% of people who needed to see a GP
  • 16.6% of people who needed to see a psychologist
  • 18.4% of people who needed to see a psychiatrist
  • 11.7% of people who needed to see an other mental health professional.

By sex

Females were more likely to delay or not see a health professional for their own mental health when needed due to cost than males (13.4% compared to 9.7%).

Females were more likely to delay or not see the following health professionals for their own mental health when needed due to cost than males:

  • a psychologist (19.0% compared to 12.2%)
  • a psychiatrist (22.6% compared to 12.8%).

By age

In general, younger people were more likely to delay or not see a health professional for their own mental health when needed due to cost than older people:

  • 17.0% of people aged 25-34 years and 16.4% of people aged 15-24 years delayed or did not see a health professional for their own mental health when needed due to cost compared to 5.4% of people aged 65 years and over
  • 10.4% of people aged 15-24 years delayed or did not see a GP for their own mental health when needed due to cost compared to 5.4% of people aged 35-44 years
  • 20.8% of people aged 25-34 years delayed or did not see a psychologist when needed due to cost compared to 9.7% of people aged 55-64 years.

(a) Includes mental health nurse, social worker, counsellor or occupational therapist.

Source: Patient Experience, Australia, 2020-21, Table 29.3 and Customised data.

See Table 29.3 in the Data downloads section.

Data downloads

Tables 1-3 Experience of Health services

Tables 4-6 Experience of GP services

Tables 7-9 Experience of after hours GP care

Tables 10-12 Experience of medical specialist services

Tables 13-15 Experience of dental services

Tables 16-18 Experience of hospital services

Tables 19-21 Experience of emergency department

Tables 22-24 Experience with three or more health professionals

Tables 25-26 Impact of COVID-19 on health service use and private health insurance cover

Tables 27-28 Experience of telehealth services

Tables 29-30 Experience of mental health services

Data item list

All data cubes

Survey material

Questionnaire

Previous catalogue number

This release previously used catalogue number 4839.0.