Australian Atlas of Healthcare Variation Series

This series explores how healthcare use in Australia varies depending on where people live. It investigates reasons for variation that may be unwarranted, and provides specific achievable actions to reduce unwarranted variation.


Maps of variation in care, derived from information routinely gathered by the health system, show how healthcare use differs across the country and to raise important questions about why this variation might be occurring. The aim is to prompt further investigation into whether the observed variation reflects differences in people’s healthcare needs, in the informed choices they make about their treatment options, or in other factors.

Find out more:

  • Why measure variation in healthcare use?
  • The Atlas Series
  • What is included in the Atlases
  • Complete list of topics in the Atlas series

Why measure variation in healthcare use?

Getting the best outcomes for patients and reducing harm are the goals of the Atlas. Where we see substantial variation in use of a particular treatment, it is an alarm bell that should make us stop and investigate whether appropriate care is being delivered.

Variation in itself is not necessarily bad, and it can be good if it reflects health services responding to differences in patient preferences or underlying needs. When a difference in the use of health services does not reflect these factors, it is unwanted variation and represents an opportunity for the health system to improve.

Looking at how healthcare use varies between people living in different areas, between people with and without socioeconomic disadvantage, and between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians and other Australians can show who in our community is missing out. Fundamental changes to address the underlying determinants of ill health, as well as better service delivery for those with existing disease, are needed where these inequities are found.

The Atlas series

  • The first Atlas was published in 2015 and focused on care related to antibiotic prescribing, surgical, mental health and diagnostic services. 
  • The second Atlas, released in 2017, examined chronic disease and infection – potentially preventable hospitalisations, cardiovascular conditions, women’s health and maternity and surgical interventions.
  • The third Atlas published in 2018 examined neonatal and paediatric health, thyroid and gastrointestinal investigations and treatments and cardiac tests. It also focused on changes over time in prescribing behaviour, with a repeat analysis of prescribing over four years for antimicrobial, opioid and psychotropic medicines.
  • The fourth Atlas published in 2021 examined early planned birth, chronic disease and infection – potentially preventable hospitalisations, lumbar spinal surgery, ear nose and throat surgery in children and young people, gastrointestinal investigations and medicines use in older people

What is included in the Atlases?

Each Atlas includes data, maps, graphs, clinical commentaries and recommendations for each chapter. The following can be viewed or downloaded for each Atlas via the website and the interactive platform:

  • Download of the full Atlas as a PDF
  • Download of individual chapters for each Atlas
  • Download of data sheets for each clinical item that include data by local geographical Statistical Area Level 3 (SA3), remoteness and socioeconomic status
  • Maps of Australia and capital city area rates by SA3, graphs showing by state and territory and remoteness and socioeconomic status
  • Additional analyses for some clinical items, such as data by age, sex, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander status, public or private funding, and prescriber type
  • Data by Primary Health Network (PHN) is also available for some items
  • View interactive data with maps and graphs through the interactive platform.

First Atlas (2015) - by topic

Second Atlas (2017) - by topic

Third Atlas (2018) by topic