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.