Bridging health policy and outcomes with data

Stuart Finlayson

When it comes to impacting citizens’ day-to-day lives, access to effective healthcare for chronic or traumatic conditions is paramount. Data has the potential to help produce better outcomes for patients but concerns around privacy and security have so far stymied progress.

In Australia, there has been a tendency for citizens to view the government’s handling of personal health records with a degree of mistrust, evidenced by SOTI’s recent survey on Australian’s privacy concerns over health data, coupled by the mass opt out of the My Health Record initiative.

Elsewhere in the world, such as in the UK, there seems to be a greater willingness to share public health information and correlate that health data with other data sets, such as education and socio-economic data, with the help of trusted participants.

Data can bridge the gap between policy and patients

Data analysis expert, and founder and CEO of Open Data Australia, Jamie Leach says Australia could benefit greatly from adopting the model like the one SAP used recently in the United States to help a US State government manage an opioid crisis.

“The United States has a chronic opioid problem which costs lives and billions of dollars and is not showing any signs of slowing down any time soon. The government of one state, where the opioid problem has reached epidemic proportions, has made the decision to allow trusted participants to access, analyse, correlate, visualise, and report data to policymakers to provide direction on where investment is needed. That could absolutely work for Australia. It’s what data should be used for.”

By combining health data with data from family and social services, officials were able to gain a better understanding of the triggers for opioid addiction and how to more effectively manage it, using SAP analytics software to pull information together and map out drug arrests, pharmacy robberies, drug deaths, and overdose-related ambulance calls, to build a detailed picture of the areas that required the most attention and resources.

“The State created a real-time predictive analytics platform that enables data scientists to surface and statistically quantify the importance of risk factors buried in big data. The result is a data-driven policy platform that can provide actionable insights across a wide range of socioeconomic problems. It can help policymakers understand the inter-dependencies between problems and even predict where new problems may arise,” says Ryan van Leent, from SAP’s Institute for Digital Government.

How does this translate to Australian health outcomes?

In Australia, our vast geographic expanse poses problems in terms of providing adequate levels of healthcare, education and social welfare to citizens in remote and isolated communities. The higher levels of alcohol and drug abuse in these remote areas compared to our metropolitan centres only serves to exacerbate the problem.

Data can be deployed to drive immediate healthcare outcomes, for example overlaying health with socioeconomic data such as criminology and education statistics around early childhood development. There is potential to influence government programs aimed at regional, metropolitan and rural areas.

“We would be able to predict some behaviours, as well as the outcome of poor life choices, education issues, criminology, behavioural studies, and then see the flow on effect of those in terms of health issues,” says Leach.

The ability to influence early childhood development outcomes using data is essential to deliver effective healthcare. By overlaying healthcare with spatial formats in many parts of the world, for example where SAP helped a state government address the opioid crisis in the US, we can start to see the impact of being able to create evidence-based public policy.

Visualisation of health data can also help identify where preventative care is most needed and delivers the greatest outcomes. This allows service providers to see who would benefit most from preventative health programs that promote a healthier lifestyle, negating the need for onerous and costly healthcare requirements of a lifestyle-related illness.

“It’s all about identifying the most meaningful data sets and correlating them to establish a public-private partnership. Privacy needs to be prioritised in order for the research to proceed”, says Leach.

Digital empathy is key to encourage greater openness about our health issues

To achieve this level of data sharing and analysis in Australia, governments at all levels will need to build a case to alleviate concerns and address why these programs are required. There must be an openness and honesty about the types of data sets that will be correlated, so that no panic or concern over privacy ensues.

“The process and the intent need to be disclosed, then once outcomes are produced, good or bad, they need to be shared at a level that’s appropriate for the public to comprehend the work that’s going on and why it’s important,” says Leach.

For the Australian Government to administer healthcare resources in the most effective and efficient manner, it needs to gain a better understanding of its citizens. The move towards greater digital empathy at state and federal levels of government is a key step in this process to provide the public sector with the information it needs to generate better health outcomes for our nation’s citizens.

“At the heart of every socioeconomic problem are complex multi-dimensional human beings, so our models need to be able to establish correlations between risk factors and identify causations that might otherwise be unknown to policymakers,” adds van Leent.

To explore more on Data-Driven approaches, explore the recommendations provided by SAP.

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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