Indigenous compared with non-Indigenous Australian patients at entry to specialist palliative care: Cross-sectional findings from a multi-jurisdictional dataset

John A. Woods, Jade C. Newton, Sandra C. Thompson, Eva Malacova, Hanh T. Ngo, Judith M. Katzenellenbogen, Kevin Murray, Shaouli Shahid, Claire E. Johnson

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Background There are few quantitative studies on palliative care provision to Indigenous Australians, a population known to experience distinctive barriers to quality healthcare and to have poorer health outcomes than other Australians. Objectives To investigate equity of specialist palliative care service provision through characterising and comparing Indigenous and non-Indigenous patients at entry to care. Methods Using data (01/01/2010–30/06/2015) from all services participating in the multi-jurisdictional Palliative Care Outcomes Collaboration, Indigenous and non-Indigenous patients entering palliative care were compared on proportions vis-à-vis those expected from national statutory datasets, demographic characteristics, and entry-to-care status across fourteen ‘problem’ domains (e.g., pain, functional impairment) after matching by age, sex, and specific diagnosis. Results Of 140,267 patients, 1,465 (1.0%, much lower than expected from statutory data) were Indigenous, 133,987 (95.5%) non-Indigenous, and 4,905 (3.5%) had a missing identifier. The proportion of patients with a missing identifier diminished markedly over the study period, without a corresponding increase in the proportion identified as Indigenous. Indigenous compared with non-Indigenous patients were younger (mean 62.8 versus 73.0 years, p<0.001), a higher proportion were female (51.5% versus 46.3%; p<0.001) or resided outside major cities (44.2% versus 21.5%, p<0.001). Across all domains, Indigenous compared with matched non-Indigenous patients had lower or equal risk of status requiring prompt intervention. Conclusions Indigenous patients (especially those residing outside major cities) are substantially underrepresented in care by services participating in the nationwide specialist palliative care Collaboration, likely reflecting widespread access barriers. However, the similarity of status indicators among Indigenous and non-Indigenous patients at entry to care suggests that Indigenous patients who are able to access these services do not disproportionately experience clinically important impediments to care initiation.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0215403
Number of pages15
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2 May 2019

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