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Background: Ischaemic heart disease (IHD) remains the leading cause of morbidity and mortality for both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians. Patterns of primary and specialist care in patients leading up to the first hospitalisation for IHD potentially impact on prevention and subsequent outcomes. We investigated the differences in general practice (GP), specialist and emergency department (ED) consultations, and associated resource use in Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people in the two years preceding hospitalisation for IHD. Methods: Linked-data were used to identify first IHD admissions for Western Australians aged 25-74 years in 2002-2007. Person-linked GP, specialist and ED consultations were obtained from the Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) and ED records to assess health care access and costs for the preceding 2 years. Results: Aboriginal people constituted 4.7% of 27,230 IHD patients, 3.5% of 1,348,238 MBS records, and 14% of 33,170 ED presentations. Aboriginal (vs. non-Aboriginal) people were younger (mean 50.2 vs 60.5 years), more commonly women (45.2% vs 28.4%), had more comorbidities [Charlson index≥1, 35.2% vs 26.3%], were more likely to have had GP visits (adjusted rate-ratio 1.07, 95% CI 1.02-1.12), long/prolonged (16.0% vs 11.9%) consults and non-vocationally registered GP consults (17.1% vs 3.2%), but less likely to received specialist consults (mean 1.0 vs 4.1). Mean number of urgent/semi-urgent ED presentations in the year preceding the IHD admission was higher in Aboriginal people (2.9 vs 1.9). Aboriginal people incurred 2.7% of total associated MBS expenditure (estimated at 59.7 million). Mean total cost per person was 43.3% lower in Aboriginal patients, with cost differentials being greatest in diabetic and chronic kidney disease patients. Conclusions: Despite being over-represented in urgent/semi-urgent ED presentations and admissions for IHD, Aboriginal people were under-resourced compared with the rest of the population, particularly in terms of specialist care prior to first IHD hospitalisation. The findings underscore the need for better primary and specialist shared care delivery models particularly for Aboriginal people.
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