Gaps in practice

January/February 2011

FocusGaps in practice

Indigenous health

A role for private general practice

Volume 40, No.1, January/February 2011 Pages 16-19

R Paul Johanson

Peter Hill


The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander life expectancy gap is associated with lower primary care usage by Indigenous Australians. Many Indigenous Australians regard private general practitioners as their usual source of healthcare. However, a range of barriers results in relatively low access to primary care, with subsequent inadequate prevention and management of chronic disease. Indigenous primary care requires development of a set of attributes by the GP. Clinician autonomy may need to be tempered to be responsive to the needs of local indigenous communities.


A partnership between an urban indigenous community and a private general practice is described.


Over a period of 1 year, registered indigenous patients at the private general practice clinic increased from 10 to 147; monthly attendance increased from five to 40 (p<0.001). Local engagement between private practices and indigenous communities may be implemented widely to reduce the primary care gap.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were estimated to have a life expectancy at birth of 72.9 years for females and 67.2 years for males in 2005–2007; 9.7 years less for females and 11.5 years less for males compared to non-Indigenous Australians.1 This ‘life expectancy gap’ is attributed to increased disability and chronic disease, as well as young child mortality. Parallel observations include an excess of potentially preventable hospitalisations1 and a younger population profile.2

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