1 in 15 hospitalisations could be prevented through early health interventions

Your likelihood of having a preventable hospitalisation varies by where you live, and your individual circumstances, according to a new report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

The report, Disparities in potentially preventable hospitalisations across Australia 2012–13 to 2017–18, shows that 748,000 (1 in 15 or 6.6%) hospital admissions were classified as potentially preventable in 2017–18.

‘Nationally, the rate of potentially preventable hospitalisations in 2017–18 was around 2,800 per 100,000 people. Rates were highest in the Northern Territory (around 5,800 per 100,000), and lowest in the Australian Capital Territory (around 2,150 per 100,000),’ said AIHW spokesperson Mr. Richard Juckes.

Potentially preventable hospitalisations (PPH) are admissions to hospital that could potentially have been avoided through preventive care (such as vaccination), or appropriate disease management (such as treatment of infections or management of chronic conditions) in the community.

The most common cause (10%) of potentially preventable hospitalisations was chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Vaccine-preventable pneumonia and influenza, and congestive cardiac failure accounted for the most days of hospital care.

People aged 65 years and over accounted for almost half (46%) of all potentially preventable hospitalisations, and children (aged 0–14) made up 13% (1 in 8).

The report shows Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people experienced potentially preventable hospitalisations at a rate 3 times as high as other Australians.

‘There were about 45,000 potentially preventable hospitalisations for Indigenous Australians in 2017–18, an increase of 25% between 2012–13 and 2017–18,’ Mr Juckes said.

PPH rates often increase with increasing remoteness and socioeconomic disadvantage. The gap between people living in very remote areas and major cities widened between 2012–13 and 2017–18. Similarly, the gap between people living in the lowest and highest socioeconomic areas widened for a number of conditions.

‘Classifying a hospitalisation as “potentially preventable” does not mean that the hospitalisation itself was unnecessary, however, it indicates that management at an earlier stage may have prevented the patient’s condition worsening to the point of hospitalisation,’ Mr Juckes said.

‘It’s important to note that a higher rate of PPH doesn’t always indicate a less effective health system, but PPH are useful for identifying variations between different groups, and understanding health inequalities.’

In the future, the use of linked data sets could allow for a better understanding of the complex relationships between PPH and disease prevalence, use of primary health care, use of medicines and health outcomes.

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