The Enhancement Project of the Alcohol and Other Drug Treatment Services National Minimum Data Set (AODTS-NMDS) was funded by the Australian Department of Health and Ageing. It examined the feasibility of introducing a statistical linkage key and one or more indicators of mental health into the AODTS-NMDS to answer three specific questions:

  1. How many clients across Australia receive treatment for alcohol and other drug use?
  2. How many of those clients have a co-existing mental health problem?
  3. How do we protect the privacy of these clients?

A statistical linkage key (SLK) is an alphanumeric code that identifies unique records. It consists of a combination of letters and numbers, represented by a code, from an individual's first and last names, their sex and date of birth. This combination of components is highly unlikely to be the same for any two people and therefore it is possible to count unique records without the individual's actual identity being disclosed.

The project consisted of four parts:

  1. An initial consultation with jurisdictions– to ascertain the feasibility of the project aim and their technical capacity to participate at the time of the project.
  2. A feasibility consultation with treatment agencies–to gather information about current practice, capacity and willingness to implement new data items.
  3. Piloting the new data elements in alcohol and other drug treatment agencies–to observe how the elements are accepted by staff and clients, the accuracy of information gathered and technical aspects of collection, transmission and analysis.
  4. Final Report–to inform the possible implementation of the SLK and mental health indicator items and future development of the AODTS-NMDS.

This report presents the findings of this project.

Major findings

  • Introduction of the components of the Statistical Linkage Key 581 to the collection are feasible and should be introduced nationally. This will allow the estimation of the number of clients who access alcohol and other drug (AOD) treatment, providing both point-in-time and flow data and information about patterns of service usage.
  • The first two questions of the General Screener of the PsyCheck tool (Lee et al. 2007), are appropriate items to indicate the prevalence of affective and anxiety disorders in clients of AOD services. Further discussions with mental health epidemiologists may be required to make this information more robust and capture a greater range of mental health disorders within this population. When analysed with the SLK, an estimation of the number of people who have a co-existing mental health and substance use problem may be made.
  • Implementation of new data elements into the NMDS would vary between jurisdictions according to their existing data collection, reporting systems and subject to national agreement1. A minority of jurisdictions currently collect the components of the SLK581 while the majority of jurisdictions would have to redesign data collection systems to collect these components. Similarly, some jurisdictions have implemented the PsyCheck tool as part of clinical practices while others would have to incorporate these elements into their collections in order to report them.
  • Privacy is a critical issue to address in the development of the AODTS-NMDS and will require ongoing attention by the AODTS-NMDS Working Group and the AIHW.
  1. All modifications and enhancements to national minimum data sets require national agreement sought through a process overseen by the Australian Health Ministers Advisory Council and its subcommittees.