Background: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are under-reported in administrative health datasets in NSW, Australia. Correct reporting of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples is essential to measure the effectiveness of policies and programmes aimed at reducing the health disadvantage experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. This study investigates the potential of record linkage to enhance reporting of deaths among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in NSW, Australia.
Methods: Australian Bureau of Statistics death registration data for 2007 were linked with four population health datasets relating to hospitalisations, emergency department attendances and births. Reporting of deaths was enhanced from linked records using two methods, and effects on patterns of demographic characteristics and mortality indicators were examined.
Results: Reporting of deaths increased by 34.5% using an algorithm based on a weight of evidence of a person being Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander, and by 56.6% using an approach based on 'at least one report' of a person being Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander. The increase was relatively greater in older persons and those living in less geographically remote areas. Enhancement resulted in a reduction in the urban-remote differential in median age at death and increases in standardised mortality ratios particularly for chronic conditions.
Conclusions: Record linkage creates a statistical construct that helps to correct under-reporting of deaths and potential bias in mortality statistics for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.