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Identification of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Australian general practice

Improving the health of indigenous people

Without practice awareness, a patient who is of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander origin cannot benefit from various measures in the Australian Government's Indigenous Chronic Disease Package which include key measures available under the Practice Incentives Program Indigenous Health Incentive (PIP IHI)and the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) co-payment measure.

The RACGP is committed to improving the health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, most significantly demonstrated by the establishment of the RACGP National Faculty of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health in February 2010.

In its position statement on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health, the RACGP commented on the significant numbers of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander patients being treated by mainstream practices, but the relatively small number of preventive health assessments conducted for these patients. The College observed a need for improvements in the rates of identification of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander patients by general practices.

The need for improved identification has intensified as the result of two national initiatives.

In April 2010 the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) published a report, National Best Practice Guidelines for Collecting Indigenous Status in Health Data Sets. This report recommended the use of a standard national question: 'Are you of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander origin?' to identify, record and report the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander status of patients of health services.

The AIHW data collection guidelines were adopted by the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) in order to report progress against performance indicators to close the gap in health outcomes. Schedule F of the COAG National Indigenous Reform Agreement requires all jurisdictions in the health sector to have fully implemented the AIHW best practice guidelines by December 2012.

Research evidence shows that where general practices take systematic action to improve their identification processes, there is a corresponding increase in the numbers of correctly identified patients. The College is aware that there are sensitivities and concerns in some areas about the issue of identification and that 'asking the question' and recording the answer may require IT and procedural support. The College believes that these issues can be addressed, and intends to lead or participate in initiatives to address them.

The College acknowledges that at practice level, identifying Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander status is a necessary precondition for participation in the Closing the Gap initiative.