Publication date
24 January 17

Across many health indicators, Indigenous Australians remain disadvantaged compared with non-Indigenous Australians. Professor Louisa Jorm linked and scrutinised the vast data held by modern healthcare systems to understand the factors influencing disadvantage for Indigenous Australians. This important research will translate it into better disease prevention and patient care for Indigenous Australians, as well as more effective health care spending.

(L–R) Professor Louisa Jorm, Professor Sandra Eades and Ms Deborah Randall.

Photo credit: Grant Turner - MediKoo

Across many health indicators, Indigenous Australians remain disadvantaged compared with non-Indigenous Australians. Professor Louisa Jorm linked and scrutinised the vast data held by modern healthcare systems to understand the factors influencing disadvantage for Indigenous Australians. This important research will translate it into better disease prevention and patient care for Indigenous Australians, as well as more effective health care spending.

Funding Details

Western Sydney University and University of New South Wales Project Grant $484,697 2009-2014

Team Members: Ms Deborah Randall Professor Alastair Leyland Professor Sandra Eades Ms Sanja Lujic Dr Timothy Churches Associate Professor Mary Haines Mr Michael Falster Dr Kathleen Falster Mr Holger Möller Dr Aiden O’Loughlin Professor Rebecca Ivers Mr Tim Harrold Ms Tracie Reinten

Aboriginal Australians have a life expectancy 11.5 years lower for males and 9.7 years lower for females than non-Indigenous Australians.

While there have been improvements in the health and wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians in recent years, some long-standing challenges remain.

Through the Indigenous Health Outcomes Patient Evaluation (IHOPE) project, Professor Louisa Jorm and her team set out to investigate factors influencing health outcomes for Indigenous Australians.

“Every time you visit a GP, hospital or emergency department, valuable data are generated. Yet, these data are underutilised to inform improvements in health care.

“There is so much crucial health information in data banks that can analysed to understand the best way to deal with major diseases and health issues,” Professor Jorm explained.

The team applied advanced statistical modelling techniques to understand how individual, geographic and hospital factors may contribute to disparities in health outcomes for Indigenous people in New South Wales.

By comparing hospital data for Indigenous and non-Indigenous people, the team sought to determine whether these health disparities could be targeted with specific interventions.

Factors investigated throughout this research included socioeconomic status, remoteness, access to hospital and specialist services, and hospital characteristics.

"This research will make a valuable contribution towards improving the underlying disadvantage that Indigenous Australians face in the healthcare system."

“Our research found that crucial issues driving poor outcomes for Aboriginal people included high rates of comorbidities, low levels of private health insurance, use of smaller hospitals with fewer specialist services, and limited access to publically-funded services,” Professor Jorm remarked.

The research showed that rates of cataract surgery in Aboriginal people were 30 per cent lower than in non-Indigenous people, despite higher rates of cataract.

This disparity relates to limited access to publically funded eye health services for Indigenous Australians.

“IHOPE research has already helped in planning cardiac, ear and eye health services for Aboriginal people in New South Wales.

“The research has also been used to inform five national and state policy documents.”

This will play a vital role in closing the gap and ensuring all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people enjoy the same opportunities as non-Indigenous Australians to live a long, healthy and happy life.

Next steps:

With further funding from the NHMRC, the team is now working on a project – using routinely collected data and some of the new methods that were developed for IHOPE –that is investigating the factors that promote successful early childhood development in Aboriginal children.

Research findings

  • Rates of hospitalisation for acute myocardial infarction (AMI) in Aboriginal people were 2.1 times those in non-Indigenous people, regardless of where they lived.
  • Rates of cataract surgery in Aboriginal people were 30 per cent lower than in non-Indigenous people, despite higher rates of cataract. This disparity relates to limited access to publically funded eye health services.
  • Aboriginal children were around 30 per cent less likely than other children to receive surgery for otitis media, despite higher rates of disease. Again, access to publically-funded services underpinned the disparity.
  • Rates of serious road traffic injuries were 1.2 times higher in Indigenous than non-Indigenous people. Geography played an important role in driving this disparity.