Australians have access to high quality information in many areas of health, which enables us to better understand health behaviours, actions and outcomes, and to identify possible areas for improvement.
Further, the health information and data environment is changing rapidly, with increasing demand for the collection, reporting and use of health data. However, there are considerable information gaps, and some of the information that is collected could be used more effectively. There is also a strong need for a strategic approach to planning and managing national health data assets.
Where are the gaps?
One of the AIHW’s roles is to identify areas where health data could be improved—these gaps are highlighted in the ‘What is missing from the picture?’ sections throughout Australia’s health 2018 and they often relate to the:
- lack of comprehensive or complete data
- frequency and nature of data collection
- identification and/or size of the population group of interest.
What lies ahead?
Health data can be collected for a variety of reasons. For a patient admitted to hospital, the primary reason may be to monitor their progress so that they can get the care that they need. The data can also be used for ‘secondary’ reasons. For example, to:
- look at potential risk factors and determinants of health and disease
- track hospital waiting times
- examine trends in health spending.
The value of data rises when individual data sets are linked to create a new, more detailed data set that can tell a much more powerful story than would be possible from a single data source. Data linkage can improve our understanding of health outcomes, patient pathways and the links between health and welfare.
The increasing availability of data comes with obligations to securely store public data and to protect individual privacy. In Australia there are many arrangements to ensure these obligations are met. As more data becomes available (and potentially linked), such measures will become increasingly important.
Find out more: Chapter 1.6 ‘What is missing from the picture?’ and 2.5 ‘Secondary use of health information’ in Australia’s health 2018.