Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people (Indigenous Australians) typically die at much younger ages than other Australians and are more likely to experience disability and reduced quality of life because of ill health. One important contributor to health and wellbeing is access to health services. This paper examines Indigenous Australians' use of a range of health services, including those that provide preventive, primary and community health, hospital or specialised care. It is one of nine papers in the AIHW Indigenous Biennial Observatory series.

Preventive health services

  • In December 2009, Indigenous children were less likely than their non-Indigenous counterparts to be fully immunised at 1, 2 and 5 years of age.
  • The number of Indigenous-specific health checks delivered to Indigenous children aged less than 15 years, and reimbursed by Medicare, more than doubled between September 2006 and September 2009.
  • Indigenous women aged 50–69 years were less likely than all women in this target age group to have received a breast cancer screen from BreastScreen Australia programs in 2007 and 2008.

Primary and community health services

  • In 2009–10, general practice-type service use, reimbursed by Medicare, was similar for Indigenous Australians and non-Indigenous Australians.
  • The rate of potentially preventable hospitalisations for Indigenous people was 4.9 times the rate for other Australians in 2008–09.

Hospital services

  • Compared with other Australians, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were more than two times as likely to be hospitalised than other Australians although less likely to undergo a procedure while in hospital.
  • Indigenous Australians had longer waiting times than other Australians for a range of public elective surgeries, including cataract extraction, septoplasty and total hip replacement.

Specialised services

  • In 2009–10, Indigenous Australians had slightly lower usage rates of Medicare-reimbursed specialist services than non-Indigenous Australians.
  • In 2008–09, around 17,000 treatment episodes for alcohol and/or other drugs were provided to clients of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander origin, accounting for 12% of all treatment episodes.
  • Between 2003–04 and 2008–09, the number of hearing services provided to Indigenous clients under the Community Service Obligations program more than tripled.