Indigenous identification

One simple question – Are you of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander origin?

Identifying the Indigenous status of people accessing services improves national health and welfare data, helps ‘Close the Gap’ in outcomes between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians and helps Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people access Indigenous-specific health measures designed to overcome the health disparities between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. Most of these measures are accessed through general practitioners.

AIHW has developed a training tool to assist those who work in the health care sector to ask about Indigenous status: Training tool for Indigenous identification.

AIHW plays a leadership role in improving identification of Indigenous Australians in data collections. It:

  • develops national guidelines and other resources to promote best practice
  • monitors and analyses the quality of Indigenous data in key health and welfare data collections
  • helps state and territory governments improve Indigenous data collection in their services
  • supports consumers and health care providers improve Indigenous identification via the national helpline – the National Indigenous Data Improvement Support Centre.

Contact for advice and help

NIDISC (AIHW National Indigenous Data Improvement Support Centre) helpdesk:
Telephone: 1800 223 919
Email: [email protected]

Resources available from AIHW to improve Indigenous identification in health services

The general practice sector

The general practice sector provides Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians with access to a number of Indigenous-specific health measures.

The 2013 AIHW report, Taking the next steps: identification of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander status in general practice, looks at the collection of information on Indigenous status within the general practice sector.

Making changes to the software used in general practice has been identified as a key way to improve:

  • standardisation of processes to ascertain and record Indigenous status
  • uptake of GP-mediated Indigenous-specific health measures, such as Indigenous-specific health checks and follow-up services
  • the recording of Indigenous status in datasets that rely on GP-generated data, such as cancer registries, cancer screening registries and mortality data.

In 2015, AIHW released a working paper General practice software model to support best practice in Indigenous health care (261KB PDF) to raise awareness of these issues and help improve general practice software.

Points to note:

Practices participating in the Practice Incentive Program Indigenous Health Incentive can also register eligible Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people for chronic disease management – see Indigenous Health Incentive guidelines on the Services Australia website.

Best practice guidelines for data linkage

Data linkage offers a cost-effective approach to enhancing the completeness and consistency of Indigenous status information in key data sets, for purposes of policy formulation, service delivery, program evaluation, statistical reporting and research.

To ensure that a consistent and informed program of data linkage work is carried out across Australia, the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) tasked AIHW and the Australian Bureau of Statistics to develop national best practice guidelines for linking data relating to Indigenous people. COAG requested that the guidelines cover linkage methods and protocols, privacy protocols, quality standards and procedures. AIHW and ABS worked closely in developing the Guidelines, and also consulted widely, in order to offer guidance on how to derive Indigenous status when it is missing or inconsistently reported in a way that protects privacy and individuals' right to self-identification. The result was the publication in 2012 of National best practice guidelines for data linkage activities relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

These Guidelines were developed for use when preparing indicators and outcome measures at the aggregate level to improve monitoring and reporting. The Guidelines do not recommend that the Indigenous status of individuals be altered on source data sets. Indeed, they adopt the position that self‑reporting in response to the standard Indigenous status question is the most accurate means of ascertaining a client’s Indigenous status.