Potentially preventable hospitalisations (PPH) and potentially avoidable deaths (PAD) are hospitalisations and deaths that are considered potentially preventable through timely access to appropriate health care. While the risk of these health outcomes depends on population characteristics to some degree, relatively high rates indicate a lack of access to effective health care. In Australia, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have PPH and PAD rates that are more than 3 times as high as those for non-Indigenous people.

All Indigenous Australians are eligible for Indigenous-specific health checks, which are a part of the Australian Government’s efforts to improve Indigenous health outcomes. The health checks are conducted by GPs and are listed as item 715 on the Medicare Benefits Schedule.

In this report, we contrast the geographical variation in Indigenous PPH and PAD with the variation in uptake of Indigenous-specific health checks at the local-area level (Statistical Area Level 3), by Primary Health Network and by state or territory. Overall, areas with large Indigenous populations tend to have high rates of PPH and PAD and high uptake rates of Indigenous health checks. That areas with high rates of health checks also tend to have high rates of PPH and PAD may seem counterintuitive. However, any effects of the health checks on the rates of PPH and PAD are likely to become more apparent over time as there has recently been a dramatic increase in the rates of Indigenous health checks in many parts of Australia. It is reasonable to expect that there will be some lag time between an increase in the uptake of health checks and when positive effects on health outcomes can be seen.

We use a regression model to identify areas with unexpectedly high or low rates of PPH given the demographic composition of their populations and other characteristics of the areas (such as remoteness). Cape York, Tasmania and the northern parts of the Northern Territory stand out as regions with unexpectedly low rates of PPH. Regions with unexpectedly high rates include Central Australia, the Kimberley and some inner parts of Darwin, Perth and Brisbane.

Unexpectedly high or low rates of PPH can be due to a number of factors including:

  • performance of the local health-care services, including past performance affecting the health of local people
  • accessibility of hospitals and relative use of hospitals or other health-care services
  • people with poor health moving from areas without services to areas with services (for high rates)
  • unaccounted factors that influence the risk of PPH
  • data issues.

These factors are all potentially important. How they influence reported health outcomes needs to be better understood to ensure that policy and management decisions are based on the best available information.