About us

How Australians navigate the healthcare maze: the differential capacity to choose

The Healthcare Choice Research Project is funded by the Australian Research Council Discovery Project Grants and is a collaborative project between researchers at the Faculty of Health Sciences and the Department of Sociology and Social Policy, at the University of Sydney, as well as international collaborators.

Healthcare Choice

Choice in health care affects all Australians, but we do not all have equal capacity to choose. This project examines the factors that affect how people make healthcare choices. The Australian healthcare system has been described more as a ‘maze’ than a system as it is not ‘coherent, integrated or systematic’. It comprises a complex mix of public and private services and funding arrangements. While there is a universal health insurance scheme, Medicare, and a public hospital system, Australians can choose their general practitioner and can access diverse services in the private sector. The notion of choice within the dual public/private system is one of the cornerstones of recent policy initiatives encouraging Australians to take out private health insurance (PHI). Although presented as clear and straightforward, the notion of choice in healthcare is complex. The choices that people make intersect with:

  • Healthcare needs that may be complex;
  • Access to information about healthcare services;
  • Access to healthcare services that provide the healthcare that is needed;
  • Uncertainty about how illnesses may affect everyday life; and
  • Growing markets for many healthcare products and services.

This project answers the question: How do Australians make choices as they navigate the healthcare maze?

The study has four parts. We will examine government policy about healthcare; how the media and healthcare market shape choices; the role of doctors and other key decision makers; and individual consumers. All of these parts will help us understand how Australians navigate their way through the public/private healthcare maze.

Healthcare Capital

Our study will examine the resources that people draw on when they make healthcare choices. In doing so, we will use the work of the French sociologist, Pierre Bourdieu, who argued that the resources that people draw on are more than economic – social networks, knowledge, trust and geography are also important in understanding which resources people draw on when making healthcare choices.

For more information about the development of the project, please read our publications


Discovery Project No. DP130103876 funded by the Australian Research Council.

Willis K, Short S, Collyer F, Harley K, Gabe J, Calnan M. 2013-2015 How Australians navigate the healthcare maze: the differential capacity to choose. Australian Research Council (ARC)/Discovery Projects (DP).