Refugees in Australia have relatively low rates of hospital use, but they may be experiencing barriers to accessing hospital-based health care, refugee health specialists said in the latest edition of the Medical Journal of Australia.
Deputy Director of the Melbourne-based Refugee Health Research Centre, Dr Ignacio Correa-Velez, and colleagues studied hospital admissions in Victoria over the six financial years to June 2004.
'We found that people born in refugee-source countries have lower or similar rates of hospital utilisation in Victoria, compared with the Australian-born population,' Dr Correa-Velez said.
'Our findings indicate that the Refugee and Humanitarian Program does not currently place a burden on the Australian hospital system.
'(However), our study was not able to clarify whether low levels of use reflect reduced levels of need or unidentified barriers to hospital utilisation.'
The health screening process undergone by refugee applicants may be filtering out those with poor health, Dr Correa-Velez said.
'There is, however, increasing evidence of poorer health status and high prevalence of a range of health problems among recently arrived refugees in Australia,' he said.
'One way to measure whether people born in refugee-source countries face difficulties in accessing hospitals would be to assess utilisation rates by length of time in Australia.
'It can be argued that recent arrivals would have less knowledge about the availability of hospital services than those who had been in the country longer.'
The Medical Journal of Australia is a publication of the Australian Medical Association.