Health checks


Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (First Nations) people can receive an annual health check, designed specifically for First Nations people and funded through Medicare (Department of Health and Aged Care 2022a). This health check was introduced in recognition that First Nations people, as a group, experience some particular health risks (see Timeline of major developments in health check implementation).

The aim of these health checks is to encourage early detection and treatment of common conditions that cause ill health and early death – for example, diabetes and heart disease.

During the health check, a General Practitioner (GP) – or a multidisciplinary team led by a GP – will assess a person’s physical, psychological and social wellbeing (Department of Health and Aged Care 2022a). The GP can then provide the person with health-related information, advice and care.

The GP may also refer the person to other health care professionals for follow-‍up care, as needed – for example, physiotherapists, podiatrists or dietitians (see Follow-‍up services overview and Health checks resulting in a follow-‍up).

Example health check templates for 5 different life stages can be downloaded from the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners website.

As part of the Australian Government’s COVID‑‍19 response, telehealth items were introduced in March 2020 to help reduce the risk of community transmission of COVID‑‍19 and provide protection for patients and health care providers (Department of Health and Aged Care 2022b). Telehealth consultations may be used for gathering information, but physical examination components are requirements of all health checks (RACGP 2020).

Following a decade of annual growth, the uptake of health checks was disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly during 'lockdown' periods (AIHW 2023). Uptake has more recently resumed an upward trajectory.

The uptake of health checks has varied substantially between different regions since their introduction, including stark differences even within some major cities. The high contribution that Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services (ACCHSs) make to the overall delivery of health checks (see National use of health checks) means that access to ACCHSs and other healthcare services with a focus on First Nations people is likely to be one of the key determinants of health check uptake. Here, access means not only the proximity to services, but also the availability of required healthcare professionals such as GPs and health workers who may assist GPs. It is also important to note that while health checks are free for patients at ACCHSs and bulk-billing clinics, there may be out-of-pocket costs for patients using other health clinics. The duration of health checks may also discourage some patients from seeking these services.

Previous research has shown that First Nations people with better self-assessed health tend to have lower uptake of health checks than those with poorer self-assessed health (Butler et al. 2022). This suggests that people with poorer health may perceive more benefit in undertaking health checks, or that health promotion has more influence on people with existing health conditions.