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This overview draws largely on published information, some of which has been re-analysed to provide clearer comparisons between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people (for more details of statistics and methods, readers should refer to the original sources)1.
Indigenous health information is limited by relatively low levels of identification of Indigenous people in the vital statistics and administrative data collections, except those relating to births for which the identification of Indigenous mothers and fathers is considered good . As noted below, reasonably reliable information is available for Western Australia (WA) for some other administrative collections, but there is substantial room for improvement:
The need for information at a community level was identified in consultations undertaken for the development of the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander information plan , but there are no reliable data routinely available at this level. Survey information, particularly that collected nationally by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), such as the 2004-05 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health survey (NATSIHS), is valuable, but it is limited at a regional level by the relatively small number of Indigenous people surveyed. It is also difficult to compare survey findings because of differing sample sizes, methodologies and seasonal variations in some health conditions. On the other hand, very good data about various aspects of the health of Indigenous children in WA is available from the Western Australian Aboriginal child health survey (WAACHS).
Statistics on hospitalisation provide some insights into ill-health in the population. They are, however, quite a poor reflection of the extent and patterns of treatable illness in the community, since they represent only illness that is serious enough to require hospitalisation. Even then, hospital statistics relate to episodes of hospitalisation, with the result that each admission of an individual for a specific condition will be counted. This has a major impact on the numbers of admissions for aspects like renal dialysis, for which some people may be admitted many times in a year.
As well, the comparability of hospitalisation statistics is limited by many factors, including regional variations in admission practices, and differential geographic accessibility of hospitals.
Importantly, the incompleteness of Indigenous identification in most jurisdictions means that comparisons of Indigenous and non-Indigenous hospitalisation, including those presented in this overview, under-estimate the true difference.