Health is ‘a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity’ (WHO 1946). It influences, and is influenced by, how we feel and how we interact with the world around us, and reflects the complex interactions of an individual’s genetics, lifestyle and environment. Generally, a person’s health depends on determinants (factors that influence health) and on interventions (actions taken to improve health, and the resources required for those interventions). These determinants can affect the health of individuals and communities.

Health outcomes and experiences of health are not the same for everyone. Income, education, conditions of employment and social support (often known as ‘social determinants’ of health) are known contributors to health inequalities between population groups.

Health systems play a crucial role in health and can help to reduce the burden that ill health places on the community. Australia’s health system is considered one of the best in the world, with many services funded and delivered by Australian, state and territory governments. Australia’s health system includes public and private hospitals; primary health care services (such as general practitioners and allied health services); and referred medical services (including many specialists).

In the past year, Australia has faced several major public health crises that have required large-scale government intervention—crises that have further highlighted how important health is to our quality of life and overall wellbeing.

The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic is a major health threat; it is highly infectious and has a higher death rate than many other infectious diseases. Since the World Health Organization (WHO) classified COVID-19 as a pandemic in March 2020, the Australian community has implemented many changes to reduce the spread of the disease. The health benefits of social distancing measures are clear, and have resulted in a slowed spread of infection and reduced pressure on health services, but the long-term impacts of the pandemic are not yet known.

In the aftermath of the 2019–20 bushfires, and for the ongoing management of COVID-19, governments and policymakers need accurate, relevant and timely data to develop and implement evidence-based policies. The articles in Australia’s health 2020: data insights illustrate how health data are crucial to improving the health of Australians and ensuring that health systems respond effectively to current and changing needs.

As a health and welfare statistical agency, the AIHW recognises that health data are crucially important for improving health for individuals and populations, as well as for monitoring trends and planning for future health needs. To understand health needs at individual and population levels, we need to be able to measure health status and to collect health data; to understand people’s interactions with multiple parts of the system—and with multiple systems—we also need to be able to link relevant data.

Australia’s health 2020: data insights examines issues related to health and health systems. It underscores both the importance of data, and of building the evidence base, in achieving long-term, sustainable improvements in health and health care for all Australians. It includes 10 chapters, which present focused discussions, analyses and evidence on current issues in health data and evidence.

Chapter summaries


WHO (World Health Organization) 1946. Preamble of the Constitution of the World Health Organization as adopted by the International Health Conference, New York, 19–22 June 1946. New York: WHO.