A new report released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) shows that almost 9% of hospital admissions in Australia in 2001-02 could have been avoided.
The report, Atlas of Avoidable Hospitalisations in Australia: ambulatory care-sensitive conditions, examines hospitalisations which should be avoidable with preventive care and early disease management.
'This is primarily an issue of access to health care,' said Mr John Glover from the AIHW's Public Health Information Development Unit based at the University of Adelaide.
'The report describes conditions that with appropriate primary care, delivered, for example, by a general practitioner or at a community health centre, should not become serious enough to require admission to a hospital,' Mr Glover said.
It showed that key factors important in the number of avoidable hospitalisations are age, socioeconomic status, and remoteness. Other factors include individuals' own perceived health needs and their choices about seeking health care.
The report showed that the highest rates of avoidable hospitalisations occurred among the oldest and most disadvantaged Australians.
In 2001-02, 8.7% or 552,000 hospital admissions were potentially avoidable, with 27.1% of those occurring in the 75 years and over age bracket.
It also showed that people from the most disadvantaged areas had 61% more avoidable hospitalisations than those from the least disadvantaged areas.
'There is a distinct, socioeconomic gradient evident in total avoidable hospitalisation rates in Australia. Each increase in disadvantage is accompanied by an increase in admissions from these conditions,' Mr Glover said.
The Northern Territory (10.7%) and Tasmania (9.5%) both had higher than national average avoidable hospitalisations, the ACT (8.2%) was below the national average and the remaining states all close to the national average.
Almost two-thirds of avoidable hospital admissions were attributable to chronic conditions, with large numbers from diabetes complications and circulatory and respiratory conditions.
Just over one-third were attributable to acute conditions such as dental conditions; dehydration and gastroenteritis; ear, nose and throat infections; convulsions and epilepsy.
A small proportion of avoidable hospitalisations were due to vaccine-preventable conditions, mainly influenza and pneumonia.