Understanding who uses emergency care services can inform future health care planning, coordination and delivery to ensure that people receive the right care, in the right place, at the right time. Some lower urgency emergency department (ED) presentations may be avoidable through provision of other appropriate services in the community.

What is lower urgency care?

Lower urgency care are ED presentations at a formal public hospital ED, where the patient:

- did not arrive by an emergency services vehicle

- was assessed as needing semi-urgent or non-urgent care, and

- was discharged without referral to another hospital.

This new data release presents the in-hours and after-hours use of EDs by a person’s place of residence, focusing on lower urgency care. The number of ED presentations per hour, arrival by ambulance and admissions into hospital by triage category are also presented. Where possible, findings by sex, age group, and by PHN areas and Statistical Areas Level 3 (SA3) are provided.

This data release:

  • sourced data from the National Non-admitted Patient Emergency Department Care Database (NNAPECD), 2015–16, 2016–17 and 2017–18 and the ABS Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), Estimated Resident Population (ERP) 30 June 2001, 2015, 2016 and 2017
  • provides measures of lower urgency care based on the 2018 National Health Agreement (NHA) indicator - PI 19-Selected potentially avoidable GP-type presentations to emergency departments
  • provides baseline data for future reporting of the 2018 PHN Program Performance and Quality Framework measure - Rate of GP style emergency department presentations (P7)
  • provides a better understanding of how and when local populations are using EDs to help improve decision-making, service planning, and coordination between care providers
  • complements an upcoming AIHW release Medicare-funded GP, allied health and specialist health care across small geographic areas, 2013–14 to 2017–18 which will include the use of general practitioner services in-hours and after-hours by local areas.

All information relates to where a person lived, not where they went to hospital.

Key findings

  • In 2017–18, 37% (2.9 million) of all ED presentations were for lower urgency care.
  • Nationally, there were 117 presentations per 1,000 people, ranging by PHN area from 55 to 331 presentations per 1,000 people. 
  • People living in regional PHN areas had a higher rate of presentations (159 per 1,000 people) than metropolitan PHN areas (92 per 1,000 people).
  • There was marked variation within metropolitan PHN areas, ranging from 69 presentations per 1,000 people in the Gold Coast to 130 per 1,000 people in the Nepean Blue Mountains. 
  • Over the past 3 years, the national rate of presentations has fallen from 118 per 1,000 people to 117 per 1,000 people. The change was driven by a fall in the rate of after-hours presentations from 58 per 1,000 people to 56 per 1,000 people. By contrast, in-hours presentations rose slightly from 60.5 per 1,000 people to 61.1 per 1,000 people.
  • In metropolitan PHN areas, presentations fell from 94 per 1,000 people in 2015–16 to 92 per 1,000 people in 2017–18.
  • More men presented for lower urgency ED care than women. In 2017–18, men accounted for 52% of presentations, at 122 per 1,000 men compared with 112 per 1,000 women.
  • Children were more likely to present for lower urgency ED care. In 2017–18, presentations for people aged under 15 were 181 per 1,000 compared with 117 per 1,000 people for the general population.
  • Older people were less likely to present for lower urgency ED care. In 2017–18, presentations for people aged 65 and over were 80 per 1,000 compared with 117 per 1,000 people for the general population.
  • Presentation rates varied across socioeconomic areas within Major cities, ranging from 84 per 1,000 people in higher socioeconomic local areas to 107 per 1,000 people in lower socioeconomic local areas.