New agreement uses big data to improve WA health care

The Curtin Centre for Data Linkage has developed a new and innovative way of connecting data across general practices, hospitals, registries and government departments, which significantly reduces privacy risks.

The increased level of security is because the linkage techniques operate on encrypted data, which means there is no requirement for the release of information that could potentially identify an individual.

Under a new Memorandum of Understanding, the Curtin Centre for Data Linkage will work with the Department of Health to link GP, hospital, pathology and non-health data records with analytical tools to support the individual-centred research and service evaluation necessary to improve health outcomes at both a state and national level.

Professor Gavin Pereira, from the Curtin Health Research and Data Analytics Hub at Curtin University, said the new privacy-preserving record linkage methods had the potential to provide new individual-level data for research discovery and to inform government services, policies and programs.

"We will be able to study a person’s interactions with the health system and overlay big data analytics with the ultimate aim of new research discoveries," Professor Pereira said.

"The linkage of big data has traditionally relied on matching personally identifiable information. Although this improves the ability to investigate individual health outcomes and provide personalised health care, there remains concern regarding privacy as the matching requires the exchange of identifiable information. The Curtin Centre for Data Linkage has developed a means to connect data across general practices, hospitals, registries, government departments and yet also preserve privacy.

"The COVID-19 pandemic has increased awareness that health is not solely attributable to clinical care. Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing. It is not just about genetics, diet and exercise. It is about what we do, where we live, who we interact with, where we work or go to school. Each life activity is a transaction that generates new data, which brings both new opportunities to gain a more holistic understanding of health as well as challenges to overcome. We are excited to embark on this data linkage and analytics endeavour in close partnership with the Department of Health."

Mr Nasir David, the Department of Health’s Director of Data and Information Systems, said WA had a long history of data linkage activities for medical research and health service planning. A collaborative effort by the department, Curtin University, The University of WA and Telethon Kids Institute led to the establishment of the internationally recognised WA Data Linkage System (WADLS).

"The WADLS platform is housed and managed by the Department of Health. The infrastructure has contributed to several improvements to health policy and care in WA and has also supported hundreds of research projects," Mr David said.

"Government recognises and supports the significant value of linked data for purposes that extend well beyond the historic usage in medical research. This has been reflected in significant investments in data skills and functions, enabling legislation, and partnerships with universities and industry.

"Empowering the use of data linkage services in WA has been a game changer. It has led to better decision-making and high-quality healthcare throughout the state, which has been showcased through the State’s COVID-19 pandemic response."

Mr David said the collaboration provided an opportunity for the Department of Health to effectively leverage upon data skills and expertise available within Curtin University to support digital innovation and business transformation throughout the WA health system, using customer focus processes and emerging technologies in direct alignment with strategic priorities of the Digital Strategy for the Western Australian Government 2021-2025 and Sustainable Health Review 2019.

"The utilisation of privacy-preserving record linkage models, in collaboration with Curtin University’s Centre for Data Linkage, provides a safe and effective approach to integrate data from different sources, consistent with the Australian Privacy Principles and the Department of Health’s strong commitment to ensuring information is appropriately protected from misuse or inappropriate disclosure," Mr David said.

For more information about Curtin’s Health Research and Data Analytics Hub, visit here.

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Curtin University would like to pay our respect to the indigenous members of our community by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which the Perth campus is located, the Wadjuk people of the Nyungar Nation; and on our Kalgoorlie campus, the Wongutha people of the North-Eastern Goldfields.