In 2017–18, 21.6 million Australians visited a general practitioner (GP); 9.4 million had some type of diagnostic imaging, such as an X-ray; 9.0 million had a Medicare-subsidised allied health service, such as physiotherapy; and 7.6 million visited a specialist.

Overall, Australians used over 377 million non-hospital health services funded under Medicare—more than 1 in 3 (154 million) of which were GP services.

This report provides detailed time series data about use of non-hospital Medicare-subsidised services (Box 1) between 2013–14 and 2017–18. Services examined include those provided by GPs, allied health practitioners, medical specialists, nurses and Aboriginal health workers as well as diagnostic imaging services. Data are provided for more than 50 groups of services detailing:

  • the number and percentage of people who used the service
  • the number of services and rate of use per 100 people
  • the amount charged by health care providers
  • the benefits paid by Medicare.

The five years of data enable trends to be assessed for all the measures in this report.

The report presents national results and also explores how service use varies across different parts of the country and how it has changed over time. This geographic variation is examined by Primary Health Network (PHN) area and Statistical Areas Level 3 (SA3s, or ‘local areas’). Results are also reported by age and sex to give insight into who uses these services.

Australia has 31 PHNs, which were established by the Australian Government in 2015 as independent organisations to commission health services for their areas. PHN areas have been categorised into regional and metropolitan areas to aid comparisons as models of care may differ markedly between these areas.

The local area data in this report will help PHNs and other decision makers to identify areas that may need support. Results are presented by categories of remoteness and in Major cities, by socioeconomic status to support comparisons across areas (see Technical Note).

Note, all information is based on the patient’s Medicare enrolment postcode, not where they received the health care service. Patients may receive health care services outside of their enrolment postcode.

Box 1: What are non-hospital Medicare services?

This report focuses on the care that Australians received outside of hospital through the national health insurance scheme, Medicare. Most non-hospital medical services are subsidised by Medicare, including GP, specialist, diagnostic imaging and some allied health services.

How can information in this report be used?

Understanding how people use Medicare services helps to:

  • inform health policy
  • support evidence based decisions about service delivery
  • improve understanding of how well programs are working
  • identify gaps in service provision.

With local knowledge and experience, community-level health service providers may be able to identify the factors relevant to their region and better understand patient populations. The information in this report can help PHNs to coordinate care, understand trends, plan and deliver services to suit the needs and demands of their particular area. It also adds to the evidence base about health care use in Australia, strengthening knowledge about the needs of local populations and their use of health care.

Interpreting the data

There is no ideal rate of health care use and this report draws no conclusions about whether a higher or lower rate of service use is desirable for a particular area, nor does it try to assess the degree to which patient needs are being met.

Variation in the use of Medicare-subsidised services could be because of a range of factors, including differences in the:

  • prevalence of health conditions—areas with higher rates of health service use may have more people with complex health conditions
  • availability and quality of other community-based programs, services and support to help keep people healthy
  • access to health care providers.