Health service attendance patterns in an urban Aboriginal health service

Karen M Flegg, Christine B Phillips, Anne L Collins, Peter G Sharp, Meetali Kanagasundaram, Ray W Lovett and Marjan Kljakovic
Med J Aust 2010; 193 (3): 146-148.


Objectives: To describe the health service attendance patterns of urban Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (Aboriginal) Australians and make comparisons with those of the general Australian population.

Design and setting: General practitioner-completed survey of all attendances over two separate 2-week periods in 2006 at an urban Aboriginal health service in Canberra, which provides services for about 3500 patients per annum.

Main outcome measures: Standardised attendance ratios (SARs) for a range of health problems, using patients attending Australian general practice for the same reasons as the reference population.

Results: Patients attending the Aboriginal health service were significantly younger than the Australian general practice patient reference population. The most common conditions managed were psychological, encompassing substance misuse; psychological problems accounted for 24% of all attendances. Patients attending the Aboriginal health service had higher rates of attendance for psychological conditions (SAR, 2.14; 95% CI, 2.01–2.28), endocrine conditions (SAR, 2.44; 95% CI, 2.29–2.60) and neurological conditions (SAR, 2.90; 95% CI, 2.71–3.09), as well as for circulatory, digestive and male and female genital conditions, than the reference population. Patients attending the Aboriginal health service had significantly lower attendance rates than the Australian population for respiratory illnesses, and conditions related to eyes or ears.

Conclusions: At this urban Aboriginal health service, attendance patterns reflected complex health care needs that are different from those expected of a population of this age. Urban Aboriginal health service attendance appears to reflect significant ill health among the patients, aligning more with Aboriginal health statistics nationally rather than health statistics for urban non-Aboriginal Australians.

  • Karen M Flegg1
  • Christine B Phillips1
  • Anne L Collins1
  • Peter G Sharp2
  • Meetali Kanagasundaram1
  • Ray W Lovett3
  • Marjan Kljakovic1

  • 1 School of General Practice, Rural, and Indigenous Health, Australian National University Medical School, Canberra, ACT.
  • 2 Winnunga Nimmityjah Aboriginal Health Service, Canberra, ACT.
  • 3 National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health, Australian National University, Canberra, ACT.



We acknowledge the effort and time contributed by all doctors at WNAHS in completing these surveys. We are indebted to the Chief Executive Officer and Board of WNAHS for the release of the information and data reported in this article.

Competing interests:

None identified.

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