Background: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people (First Nations Australians) living in remote communities are hospitalised with skin and soft tissue infections (SSTIs) at three times the rate of non-First Nations Australians. The Torres Strait in tropical northern Australia has a highly dispersed population mainly comprised of First Nations Australians. This study aimed to define the health service utilisation and health system costs associated with SSTIs in the Torres Strait and to improve the quality of regional healthcare delivery.
Methods: The research team conducted a retrospective, de-identified audit of health records for a two-year period, 2018 – 2019. The aim was to define health service utilization, episodes of outpatient care, emergency department, inpatient care and aeromedical retrieval services for SSTIs.
Results: Across 2018 – 2019, there were 3509 outpatient episodes of care for SSTIs plus 507 emergency department visits and 100 hospitalisations. For individuals with a SSTI, the mean outpatient clinic episode cost $240; the mean emergency department episode $400.85, the mean inpatient episode $8,403.05 while an aeromedical retrieval service cost $18,670. The total costs to the health system for all services accessed for SSTI management was $6,169,881 per year, 3% of the total annual health service budget.
Conclusions: Healthcare costs associated with SSTIs in the Torres Strait are substantial. The implementation of effective preventative and primary care interventions may enable resources to be reallocated to address other health priorities in the Torres Strait.
Keywords: Health economics, Indigenous Australians, infectious skin diseases, rural health