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released: 8 Apr 2010 updated: 16 May 2013 author: AIHW

All clients of health services should be asked if they are of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander origin in the process of routine data collection. Despite improvements in recent years, there have been continuing problems in establishing and maintaining standard practice in the collection of Indigenous status, resulting in the under-identification of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in key national health data sets. These guidelines have been developed to ensure the standard Indigenous status question is asked correctly and consistently of all clients of health services, and that this information is correctly recorded. Limit of 5 copies.

ISBN 978 1 74024 998 0; Cat. no. IHW 29; 32pp.; FREE - Order from nidisc@aihw.gov.au


Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are under-identified in many health-related data collections. Self-report in response to the standard Indigenous status question is the most accurate means of ascertaining a client’s Indigenous or non-Indigenous status.

The development of the best practice guidelines

  • The Best Practice Guidelines document the recommended national approach for collecting and recording accurate information on the Indigenous status of clients.
  • The guidelines were informed by a review of previous research into Indigenous underidentification in administrative data collections, consultation with key stakeholders, service providers, health authorities and data custodians for the range of key health data collections covered by the guidelines.
  • The guidelines address the need for a more systematic national approach to ensure the standard Indigenous status question is asked correctly and consistently of all clients of health services, and that this information is recorded properly.
  • They comprise three parts—Part A: Asking the question, Part B: Recording responses and Part C: Putting the guidelines into practice.

Other recommendations

  • This report also includes recommendations for supporting the implementation of the Best Practice Guidelines through staff training, as well as data quality assurance strategies for service providers and data custodians.
  • The report notes the need to promote guidelines widely so that their use becomes routine across various service provision settings and client groups.
    The promotion of these guidelines needs to address prevailing beliefs and attitudes amongst both staff and clients of health services that may undermine best practice at the point of data collection.
  • The Council of Australian Governments (COAG) National Indigenous Reform Agreement sets out a timeline for all jurisdictions to complete implementation of the guidelines by December 2012.
  • The AIHW’s National Indigenous Data Improvement Support Centre (NIDISC) has been established to support jurisdictions and service providers to implement the guidelines.

Recommended citation

AIHW 2010. National best practice guidelines for collecting Indigenous status in health data sets. Cat. no. IHW 29. Canberra: AIHW.

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