The cost-effectiveness of primary care for Indigenous Australians with diabetes living in remote Northern Territory communities

David J Whyatt, Alistair Vickery and Matthew Yap
Med J Aust 2014; 201 (8): 448-450. || doi: 10.5694/mja14.00843
Published online: 20 October 2014

To the Editor: Thomas and colleagues1 attribute differences in hospital use among patients with diabetes to differences in use of primary care at remote state-run primary care clinics. We believe this conclusion to be unsupported by the evidence presented.

First, the study fails to accurately measure primary care use. Although study participants were restricted to those with remote residences, this ignores the mobility of such a population, and their subsequent access to primary care services not captured by the remote clinics' primary care information system. Additionally, there are 26 Aboriginal community controlled health services, many of which have primary or satellite locations in remote areas.

Second, there are other known associations, unadjusted for in this study, that may explain differing hospitalisation rates in low and high users of the remote clinics. These include social acceptability,2 socioeconomics,3 behaviour of health care providers and patients4 and access to health services. It is known that access to hospital drives hospital use.5 Differences in social norms between the two groups may drive different choices in site of health care delivery. Stigmatised health problems of a social or spiritual nature may affect a patient's willingness to see health workers from within their community.

Without adjusting for these variables, differences in hospital use cannot be simply attributed to differences in the use of (some) primary care services. Without such attribution, no realistic cost-effectiveness analysis can be undertaken. This study should not be used to guide policy or planning.

  • David J Whyatt
  • Alistair Vickery
  • Matthew Yap

  • School of Primary, Aboriginal and Rural Health Care, University of Western Australia, Perth, WA.



David Whyatt and Matthew Yap's positions at the University of Western Australia are funded by the Department of Health, Western Australia.

Competing interests:

No relevant disclosures.

  • 1. Thomas SL, Zhao Y, Guthridge SL, Wakerman J. The cost-effectiveness of primary care for Indigenous Australians with diabetes living in remote Northern Territory communities. Med J Aust 2014; 200: 658-662. <MJA full text>
  • 2. Levesque JF, Harris MF, Russell G. Patient-centred access to health care: conceptualising access at the interface of health systems and populations. Int J Equity Health 2013; 12: 18.
  • 3. Rosano A, Loha CA, Falvo R, et al. The relationship between avoidable hospitalization and accessibility to primary care: a systematic review. Eur J Public Health 2013; 23: 356-360.
  • 4. Kane RL. Finding the right level of posthospital care: “We didn't realize there was any other option for him”. JAMA 2011; 305: 284-293.
  • 5. Lin G, Allan DE, Penning MJ. Examining distance effects on hospitalizations using GIS: a study of three health regions in British Columbia, Canada. Environ Plan A 2002; 34: 2037-2053. doi: 10.1068/a3528.


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