Data-driven health in Australia is underway, with linked data advancing the efficiency, quality and delivery of healthcare.

Australians are embracing the benefits and the potential of this revolution. Support for the use of My Health Record data for research purposes is high, with 44 per cent of Australians strongly in support and a further 46 per cent somewhat in support. [12]

My Health Record

Australia is rolling out My Health Record, a national electronic patient record system, managed and maintained by the Australian Digital Health Agency. Over 90% of Australian residents have a My Health Record.

Healthcare providers can implement safe and efficient digitally enabled clinical workflows as most of their patients will have their own shared digital health record.

The My Health Record system is a foundation element of Australia’s digital health infrastructure, as well as providing a platform for additional innovations into the future.

My Health Record provides opportunities for business to integrate with the solution, such as building mobile apps for patients. This developer program is open to international companies.

A secondary use of data framework has also been developed to manage the use of My Health Record data, with patient consent, for purposes such as research. This is overseen by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

Australia has the potential to provide an integrated, de-identified national dataset – a big data sandpit for developers to create digital health solutions.

Australia has several other accessible big data sets including the National Echocardiography Database of Australia (NEDA), the largest study of heart function in the world, and the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute’s POSSUMweb – a dysmorphology database.

Government investment in policy and research

Australia recognises data as a valuable government resource and is focused on data linking to maximise opportunities for more complex and expanded evidence-based policy and research. [13]

In 2015 the Australian Government released a roadmap towards the regular and systematic release of public sector data and the need for reform to make the most of public sector data held. Over the last three years, Australian Government agencies have been working together to achieve this. [14]

In addition, other collectives such as the Health Roundtable, a membership organisation of health services across Australia and New Zealand, collects, analyses and publishes information comparing organisations and identifying ways to improve practice.

Applying artificial intelligence to improve health outcomes

Linked datasets are being used to better understand and respond to factors affecting population cohorts.

Data linking by researchers in Australia helped to identify the role of folate in pregnancy in reducing neural tube defects such as spina bifida - a discovery with global impact. [15]

In another example, researchers from the Northern Territory Department of Health examined datasets including hospital admissions, aged care services, primary care and death registration and showed the much higher prevalence of dementia among the Indigenous, compared to non-Indigenous, population in the Northern Territory. [15]

Linked data is tackling waste and inefficient processes, one of the biggest challenges in health. CSIRO is using linked data to inform a Patient Admission Prediction Tool (PAPT), which is helping make the hospital admissions process more streamlined and efficient. [16]

By using historical data from emergency departments and hospital data sets, PART can model the number of patients that are likely to present at the emergency department and the numbers that are likely to require admission to wards.

Investment success

For Canadian intelligent dermatology startup MetaOptima, Australia’s world-class melanoma research and passion for innovation made Australia a logical market for expansion. In partnership with Australian venture capitalists Skip Capital and AirTree Ventures, MetaOptima opened its first international office in Sydney last year.

MetaOptima has developed an advanced dermatology platform, DermEngine, which uses AI to support the early detection of skin cancer by helping medical professionals make evidence-based decisions. ‘Our scientists in Australia are pioneers; they are changing the whole ecosystem and leading the wave of skin cancer innovation. Being part of that innovative family, having those leaders on board is awesome,’ says MetaOptima Co-founder and CEO Maryam Sadeghi.

Examples of Australian digital health applications using artificial intelligence include:

  • Clinical decision support tools such as Alcidion’s clinical dashboards for Emergency Room teams
  • Technical and data analysis such as Prospection's PharmMap , a leading business intelligence and salesforce effectiveness tool for the pharmaceutical and healthcare industries
  • Digital assistants including Sofihub, which uses AI and sensor technology to support older adults or people with disabilities to live independently .
[12] Australian Government Open Data Toolkit. Data Linking Information Series Sheet 1: What is data linking 
[13] Ms Gemma Van Halderen, General Manager, Australian Bureau of Statistics, Committee Hansard, 3 February 2016, p. 16. 
[14] Australian Government Open Data Toolkit. Data Linking Information Series Sheet 1: What is data linking 
[15] Dementia prevalence and incidence among the Indigenous and non-Indigenous populations of the Northern Territory, Shu Qin Li, Steven L Guthridge, Padmasiri Eswara Aratchige, Michael P Lowe, Zhiqiang Wang, Yuejen Zhao and Vicki Krause Med J Aust 2014; 200 (8): 465-469. || doi: 10.5694/mja13.11052. 5 May 2014  
[16] CSIRO Improving patient care and reducing waiting times