Fourth Atlas 2021 - Overview

The Australian Atlas of Healthcare Variation series explores the extent to which use of health care in Australia varies depending on where people live, how their care is funded and their level of socioeconomic disadvantage.

Where possible, it looks at how:

  • use of health care by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people compares with use by other Australians
  • health care use in urban regions compares to rural and remote regions of Australia
  • health care use for private hospital procedures compares to health care use for public hospital procedures.

It uses maps and graphs of variations in care, derived from information routinely gathered by the health system, to show how use of health care differs according to these factors.

The aim is to prompt further investigation into whether the observed variation reflects a response to differences in people’s healthcare needs or in the informed choices they make about their treatment options.

Variation for these reasons is desirable and a hallmark of a sophisticated healthcare system. But when variation in the use of health services is due to other factors – such as the provision of patient care that is not supported by evidence, uncertainty about the intervention’s place in therapy, or differences in access to care or in appropriateness of care – it is unwarranted variation and represents an opportunity for the health system to improve.

Improvements to the health system involve increasing awareness of, and access to, treatment options that produce better outcomes for consumers, and reducing the use of investigations or treatments with little or uncertain benefit.

They can take many forms, from policy reform through to a person-centred system that includes patients in shared decision making. Where improvements are imperative and/or there are obvious groups or sectors of the health system to lead them, the Commission makes recommendations.

Read the full Overview of the Atlas