Healthy Communities: Australians' experiences with primary health care in 2010–11 - Report - Introduction

Healthy Communities: Australians' experiences with primary health care in 2010–11

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Introduction

About this report

This is the second report by the National Health Performance Authority, and the first in a series of regular reports on community-based health services.

The Authority bases its performance reports on 48 indicators agreed by the Council of Australian Governments (COAG). In this report, the Authority has focused on indicators that relate to the experiences people have in accessing and receiving primary health care.

Instead of reporting at the state level, the report allows clinicians, health managers, administrators and the public to see for the first time how the results differ between each of the geographic areas covered by the new network of Medicare Locals.

There are 61 Medicare Locals across Australia, which were established in 2011. Most of the data reported covers July 2010 to June 2011. Whenever possible more recent data, covering 2011–12, is also reported.

It is important to note that these data were collected before Medicare Locals were set up. The final group of Medicare Locals began operations in July 2012. Accordingly, the findings in this report do not reflect on the performance of Medicare Locals as organisations. Instead, the purpose of this report is to deepen understanding of local populations and where services may be improved.

There is considerable variation in the size of the geographic areas served by Medicare Locals, as well as in the nature of the populations they serve. To allow fair comparisons, the Authority has grouped Medicare Locals into seven clusters, or peer groups, based on geographic remoteness and population characteristics (see Reading the data in the Key findings section).

This document reports performance against a range of COAG-endorsed indicatiors including:

  • GP attendances
  • Measures of patient experiences
  • Wait times for GP services
  • After-hours GP service utilisation.

The report provides some extra information not covered by the COAG indicators, such as Australians' views of their health status, to help interpret the findings.

Use of and experiences with primary health care

Strong primary health care systems are associated with better health outcomes and lower costs. High-performing primary health care systems put the needs of populations first to ensure patients receive high-quality, timely and appropriate treatment throughout their illness or course of care, regardless of where care is delivered.1

Primary health care services are important in providing continuity of care. They create an accessible and regular point of entry into the health system, making it easier to build trusting and respectful relationships between patients and their health care providers.1

National reforms aim to make health services more responsive to patient needs, by:

  • Improving access and reducing inequality in access
  • Increasing the focus on prevention
  • Improving quality, safety, performance and accountability in primary health care.2

The role of Medicare Locals is to help achieve these goals. They have responsibility for identifying and assessing the health care needs of their populations, improving the responsiveness, coordination and integration of primary health care in local communities, addressing service gaps and making it easier for individuals, carers and service providers to navigate their local health system.2

About the data

The data in this report principally rely on experiences with primary health care as reported by 26,423 adults in the Australian Bureau of Statistics Patient Experience Survey 2010–11. In the survey, Australians were asked to recall their experiences with health services that occurred over the preceding year.

The report includes data on services funded under the Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) for 2010–11 and 2011–12 to measure use of primary health care among all Australians. All MBS data are mapped to the Medicare Local areas in which people live, rather than the areas where services were provided. Where possible, results are broken down by geographic areas within Medicare Local catchments.

Data are included in the Health status, Use of primary health care and Experiences with primary health care sections if they relate to an indicator included in the Performance and Accountability Framework. Other data are reported in the Supplementary data: Use of primary health care and Supplementary data: Experiences with primary health care sections because they give contextual information, or if results were available for a limited number of Medicare Locals. Additional data for 2011–12 are also available at Explore the data.

Further information can be found in the Technical Supplement.

Fair comparisons

As part of its work, the Authority used statistical methods to allow, for the first time, Australians to make fair comparisons between the populations for which Medicare Locals are responsible.

To this end, each Medicare Local has been allocated to one of seven peer groups: three in metropolitan areas, two in regional areas, and two in rural areas. Medicare Locals in the same peer group are more similar to each other than to Medicare Locals in other peer groups in terms of socioeconomic status, remoteness and distance to hospitals (see Reading the data in the key findings section).

The Authority acknowledges that as Medicare Locals are newly established, many indicators require further data development work, and notes small differences in measured performance may not represent true differences in care experiences.

1. World Health Organization. The World Health Report 2008. Primary Health Care–Now More Than Ever. www.who.intExternal link, opens in a new window.[http://www.who.int/whr/2008/en/index.html]. Accessed 30/01/2013.

2. Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing 2009, Building a 21st Century Primary Health Care System, Australia’s First National Primary Health Care Strategy. DoHA, Canberra.

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