Medicare, PBS data release a healthy step says Consumers Health Forum

The release of de-identified health data offers great potential to advance research showing how Australia can deliver better health care more cost effectively, the Consumers Health Forum says.

The Department of Health has released one billion items of Medicare and Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme records which will facilitate research into the performance of the health system.  The release will enable researchers to study linkages between Medicare and PBS claims for a random 10 per cent sample of Australians.

“The data recorded by Medicare and the PBS represent a treasure trove of information that has previously been difficult for researchers to access.   When these de-identified records of both medical services and medicine prescriptions are linked they can yield a population-wide picture of what care has been delivered, patterns of service provision and  the relationship between medical services provided and medication utilisation,’’ the CEO of the Consumers Health Forum, Leanne Wells said.

“It has been an incongruous feature of the Australian health system that this rich store of information about our experience with the health system was largely off limits to studies which could show what’s working well and what’s not.

“Basic questions about population-wide interaction with the health providers and resulting prescriptions have not been able to be easily examined despite potential benefit of such knowledge in helping to identify effective and ineffective treatments and practices.  

“The release of such data has previously been discouraged on the grounds of the risk to privacy.  These concerns have been allayed by the confidentiality measures the department has taken to ensure that personal details cannot be derived from these released records.

“The department has stated that these measures will safeguard personal health information and ensure that patients and providers cannot be re-identified. 

“The data sets have been designed to enable them to be linked in the future with other records such as hospital and immunisation data which the department says will greatly increase the rate of information available and open new areas of analysis.

“The release of the linked Medicare and PBS records reflects the contemporary aim of ensuring we get maximum benefit out of the huge amount of valuable information collected in health care.  We are pleased to see that the Primary Health Networks can also access broad details about the communities they serve such as care needs and unemployment levels through similarly publicly available regional level datasets.

“Information technology has revolutionised our ability to record and reflect community needs and that can help us focus on providing the services each community needs,” Ms Wells said.


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