Identification of Australians from Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Backgrounds in National Health Data Collections

Article excerpt

Abstract

In multicultural Australia, comprehensive and up-to-date information on ethnicity and health is essential to guide policy and service development in the health sector. Data collected for purposes other than research are a potentially important source of information. This study explored the extent to which indicators of cultural and linguistic diversity are currently included in national health and welfare service data collections, and the data standards employed.

We identified and reviewed 44 relevant bodies of work: 7 national data dictionaries, 15 national data sets, 10 national health data collections and 12 national surveys. Each of the large data dictionaries (health, community services and housing assistance) contained several ethnicity-related variables. Immigrant Australians were identified (usually by country of birth, sometimes by language, and occasionally by period of residence or year of arrival) in all the major national health and community data sets, health data collections and surveys. Australian Bureau of Statistics standards and classifications relating to cultural and linguistic diversity were widely used. Researchers, health policy makers and planners should fully exploit these secondary data sources, as well as undertaking or commissioning primary research.

Aust Health Rev 2005: 29(4): 455-468

The current situation: sources, uses and gaps in data

AUSTRALIA IS A CULTURALLY diverse nation, with elements of the population displaying differing demographic, socioeconomic, cultural and linguistic characteristics. Such differences are associated with significant health and social disadvantage,1 as well as with problems in accessing appropriate services.2,3 High quality ethnicity data are necessary to guide policy and service development in the health sector.4,5 Potential data sources include primary data, which are collected by researchers for specific purposes; and secondary data, which are collected by others for other purposes or, commonly, as a general purpose data set.6 In this paper, we review the data on cultural and linguistic diversity available in national health and welfare data collections, censuses and surveys, and consider their potential for contributing to the evidence base in multicultural health. As sources of Indigenous health information and their limitations have been discussed elsewhere,7 we focus here on sources of information about the health and wellbeing of immigrant Australians.

A number of government agencies and other national bodies currently collect, collate and disseminate statistical data that potentially provide evidence relevant to ethnicity and health.4 These include the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW), the Commonwealth Department of Health and Ageing, other Commonwealth Government Departments, and academic bodies such as the National Centre in HIV Epidemiology and Clinical Research. State and territory health authorities collect routine data on specific diseases, conditions and episodes of care. Inpatient statistical collections, for example, provide the main source of data on hospital inpatients and day cases.

A feature of these collections is that they include data from the whole population, thus supporting comparison between different subpopulations where they are identified, as well as facilitating analysis of time trends and geographic differences. Use of information from secondary sources has significant advantages, though there are drawbacks as well. The most obvious benefits result from savings in cost and time. Analysis of existing data provides a useful starting point for further research by identifying gaps in knowledge and suggesting research questions or hypotheses. Drawbacks generally relate to the fact that the end-user has little control over aspects such as the selection of variables, questions and output categories, or the degree of aggregation of data across different groups, time periods and regions. …