Supporting Australia’s ongoing pandemic response through our responsive data assets

Contributing to our strategic goal of ‘drivers of data improvements’

When COVID-19 was first diagnosed in Australia in 2020, there was no real-time national picture of how our health system would cope with an evolving pandemic. Our national hospitals data holdings were focused on maintaining the long-term national record using high-quality validated data rather than real-time operational uses. It was clear that the pandemic would be a challenge to Australia’s health system, and a better national view of the evolving situation was needed.

In 2020, as part of our role in supporting the Australian Government’s response to the pandemic, we supported hospital capacity and activity operational data sharing between states, territories and the Australian Government, which provided a near-real-time source of information on our hospital system. As the pandemic evolved, it became clear that insights into the impact on the broader health system – including vaccination status, the effects of lockdowns, elective surgery cancellations and primary health care – were still largely unavailable.

To address this, we expanded the scope and functionality of the secure data-sharing platform to include data from the Medicare Benefits Schedule, Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme and the Australian Immunisation Registry. This provides a richer, more holistic view of health system activity across state and territory governments, assisting them in administering the health system during the pandemic. These data are restricted to reporting across all tiers of government and are not released publicly.

Work has also begun on the COVID-19 linked data set to collect data and analysis on the medium- and long-term effects of COVID-19. It will provide information and ongoing monitoring of the health outcomes and health system needs of people who have had a COVID-19 diagnosis. The development of the linked data set was supported through a grant from the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Medical Research Future Fund.