Productivity Commission’s “Big Data” reform plans welcomed
Health Data Linkage Group meeting
Sax Institute Deputy CEO Robert Wells
Sax Institute Deputy CEO Robert Wells

The Sax Institute has proposed that the health sector could provide the perfect testing ground for the far reaching reforms aimed at improving availability and use of data in Australia, in its submission to a Productivity Commission inquiry into the issue.

The Sax Institute’s submission responds to the Productivity Commission’s Draft Report on Data Availability and Use released last year. The draft report was published by the Commission following  an inquiry into the benefits and costs of options for increasing the availability and improving the use of public and private sector data.

The draft report outlined wide-reaching recommendations, including a call for the establishment of national-interest datasets maintained as national assets and the streamlined secure sharing of individual, de-identified data held by the public sector or funded by public investment.

The Sax Institute submission says the draft report makes a strong case for reform of policies and processes for access to the wealth of government and other data that is generated in the course of day-to-day transactions.

“The draft report strikes a good balance between access to data and the protection of private information and includes proposals that would provide the public much more transparency about what data is held and robust mechanisms to have any errors corrected,” it states.

A test case

The Sax Institute submission proposes the Commission considers using the health sector as a test case for reforming data access, and outlines a number of factors that would make it a suitable testing ground including:

  • The size and whole-population reach of the health sector
  • The complexity of the sector, which encompasses public and private services and national, state and territory governments
  • The evidence that there is a significant gap between access to and use of health data as practised in Australia
  • The fact that there are already structures in place to support consumers in getting access to health data
  • The sector’s strong research and analytical capacity, particularly in the use of linked data.

 “The health sector already has considerable experience it the use of linked data,” said Sax Institute Deputy CEO Robert Wells. Using this sector as a demonstration project would enable the full range of issues to identified and worked through before being applied across all sectors, as well as having the added benefit of accelerating progress on improving data access within the health sector.”

The SURE model

The submission also proposes the use of information technology to provide greater access to sensitive data for the public good, citing the example of the Secure Unified Research Environment (SURE), a purpose-built remote-access research laboratory that makes sensitive data available to trusted users in a convenient and secure way.

SURE, funded through the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy as part of the Population Health Research Network, was launched in 2012 and has been used by more than 300  researchers to access data including hospital admissions data, 45 and Up Study data, birth and deaths data and Medicare Benefits Schedule data, the submission  states.

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