Data linkage could be key to better health

A collaborative project between WA Primary Health Alliance and Curtin University is linking healthcare data from hospitals and general practices, where permission has been given, with the aim of making it easier for health professionals to monitor, evaluate and assess consenting patients and improve outcomes in the process.

The project has received grant funding from the Western Australian Health Translation Network and is a cross-system collaboration including representatives from General Practice, South and East Metro Health Services, University of Notre Dame, WA State Health Department and the WA Health Consumer Council.

Together they will examine data linkage and integration between general practice (primary care) and hospitals (secondary care) in a bid to increase the effectiveness and efficiencies of health services in WA.

WA Primary Health Alliance’s Manager of Primary Care Data and industry embedded Curtin researcher, Richard Varhol, said data linkage would allow health collections from different sources to be anonymously linked and securely integrated to support policy development and clinical management of chronic disease in WA.

“A longstanding challenge for health professionals and population health researchers has been accessing public and private health data which remains siloed and hard to join up,” he said.

“This lack of consistent and connected data between primary and secondary healthcare systems makes monitoring, evaluation and assessment for patient management, health utilisation and patient outcomes challenging.

“Conversely an integrated, system-wide approach will allow for a better understanding of a patient’s journey, enabling us to develop more efficient interventions in targeted areas within the health system, with the aim of improving both quality of care and reducing costs.”

The project will assess and inform models of care and health service utilisation by using information routinely captured in general practice.

The dataset will also be linked with secondary care data from hospitals to explore three main chronic diseases identified as priority areas by the Australian Government – chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), diabetes and heart failure.

In line with WA Primary Health Alliance’s state-wide structure and strong partnerships which shape, strengthen and sustain a health system that works for people to achieve better healthcare, particularly for those at risk of poor health outcomes, this information will be assessed for its use in clinical management of patients diagnosed with chronic diseases, along with how effectively it informs population health planning.

Over the next 18 months the challenges and benefits of combining primary and secondary data across the continuum of care will be assessed, with final presentations to be made in June 2021.