There have been numerous calls to establish a national minimum data set for primary health care in Australia. Despite significant investment in the provision of primary health care services in Australia, little is known about what services are being delivered to whom, with what outcomes.
Australia has a robust arrangement for the development of national minimum data set in the health sector. Data collected through existing national minimum data sets are used variously for reporting, planning, policy development and program management.Several existing sources of data relating to general practice and other primary health care services use and experience exist, however each collection has limitations. Without data on how and why people use and access primary health care services, and what occurs in individual consultations, it is difficult to detect variations and incentivise improvements in care provision.
Primary Health Networks were established to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of medical services for patients, particularly those at risk of poor health outcomes; and improve coordination of care to ensure patients receive the right care in the right place at the right time. Currently much of the data they rely on for planning and commissioning of services come from proxy measures and data sources outside of primary health care. Already, many general practices are providing de-identified data and working closely with Primary Health Networks to improve the quality of their data. Ongoing collection of data from general practice using standardised definitions and coding would potentially create enormous benefits for service planning and delivery, through greater accessibility and comparability of data relating to general practice management of health conditions and outcomes for patients.
Throughout the world, there are few examples where data is routinely and consistently collected about what happens in general practice consultations. Australia has recently established a Primary Health Care Data Unit at the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare to lead the development of a National Primary Health Care Data Asset.
This brief highlights the importance of capitalising on this initiative to develop a national minimum data set for primary health care. In so doing, it notes some key considerations such as the need for clarity about why the data are to be collected; practicalities associated with the collection of data; the need for workforce development, support, and/or training; the need to address consumer issues; assure privacy and security of data; and the need for alignment with other data sets through the application of the national framework for the governance of national data collections.