Exploring how older Australians in aged care use health services

A first-time report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) examines the use of health services by older people using different types of aged care.

The report, Interfaces between the aged care and health systems in Australia—first results, looks at how a person’s use of GPs, specialists, prescription medications and hospital services can vary with use of aged care.

‘Today’s report looks at people aged 50 and over who used only one type of aged care program in 2016–17, or no aged care at all,’ said AIHW spokesperson Ms. Louise York.

Ms York noted the importance of linking existing data to study how individuals use health and aged care services, and the links between health and aged care.

‘This report illustrates the potential power of data to build an evidence base in key areas of social policy,’ Ms York said

‘While the focus of this report is on 2016-17, the analysis draws on routinely available data and provides a useful baseline for future work. The AIHW will continue to build a more robust approach to national data on health and aged care, which can be used to inform improvements in services for older Australians.’

The report presents a range of new findings about health service use by older Australians.

‘As would be expected for people who have higher frailty and care needs, in general people who used aged care services were more likely to see a GP or specialist, and to use hospital services, than people who did not use aged care. However, the frequency of health care use varied by type of aged care program.

While people using community-based care were more likely to have at least 1 GP visit during the year than people in permanent residential aged care, when they saw a GP, they had fewer visits.

‘Older Australians living in permanent residential aged care in 2016–17 averaged 25 GP visits in the year (almost 1 per fortnight), compared to 17 for people using home support, and 16 for home care,’ Ms York said.

People living in permanent residential aged care were less likely to present at an emergency department or have a hospital admission than people using community-based aged care. People without any aged care were least likely to receive hospital care.

Consistent with their respective levels of frailty, people living in permanent residential aged care (10%) were more likely to have at least one hospital admission for a fall-related injury than those using home support or home care (6%), or those people not using any aged care (2%). 

Older Australians living in permanent residential aged care in 2016–17 were more likely to have prescriptions dispensed for medications relating to the nervous system, while people living in the community were more commonly prescribed medications related to the cardiovascular system.

‘Compared with people using community-based aged care, people living in permanent residential aged care were more likely to have had at least 1 antipsychotic prescription dispensed (28%, compared with 4–8%),’ Ms. York said.

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