Otitis media in Aboriginal children: the discordance between burden of illness and access to services in rural/remote and urban Australia

J Paediatr Child Health. Jul-Aug 2009;45(7-8):425-30. doi: 10.1111/j.1440-1754.2009.01532.x.


Objective: To compare the burden of otitis media (OM) managed by Aboriginal Medical Service (AMS) practitioners and the availability of specialist ear health services in rural/remote versus urban Australian settings.

Design, setting and participants: We mailed questionnaires to all Australian AMS medical practitioners managing children in December 2006. Questions addressed the frequency of childhood OM cases seen, and the availability and waiting times for audiology; ear, nose and throat (ENT); and hearing-aid services. We compared rural/remote and urban practitioner's responses using the c2 test with clustering adjustments.

Results: Questionnaires were returned by 63/87 (72%) AMSs and by 131/238 (55%) eligible practitioners. Rural/Remote practitioners reported managing a greater number of children with OM per week than urban practitioners (1 df, P = 0.02) and a larger proportion of the children they managed having OM (1 df, P = 0.009). More rural/remote than urban practitioners reported relevant services were not available locally: audiology (11.1 vs. 0%, P = 0.038), ENT (33.3 vs. 3.9%, P = 0.0004) and hearing-aid provision (37.7 vs. 1.9%, P < 0.0001). More rural/remote practitioners reported audiology waiting times longer than the recommended 3 months (18.3 vs. 1.9%, P = 0.007). Equal proportions reported ENT waiting times longer than the recommended 6 months (13.9 vs. 11.3%, P = 0.7).

Conclusions: Rural/Remote AMS practitioners manage a greater OM burden than urban AMS practitioners, but affected children have less access to specialist ear health services and longer waiting times. One in five rural/remote Aboriginal children wait longer than recommended for audiology testing, and one in eight Aboriginal children nationwide wait longer than recommended for ENT services.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Audiology
  • Australia / epidemiology
  • Child
  • Female
  • Health Services Accessibility*
  • Health Services, Indigenous
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Medically Underserved Area*
  • Middle Aged
  • Oceanic Ancestry Group*
  • Otitis Media / epidemiology
  • Otitis Media / ethnology*
  • Otitis Media / therapy
  • Otolaryngology
  • Physicians
  • Rural Health
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Urban Health
  • Workload
  • Young Adult