Big data, big possibilities: how Australia can use big data for better healthcare

Health Health care data Big data Innovation Healthy communities Australia

Big data promises us a world of opportunities. It promises us the power of prediction: from improving weather forecasting and learning about earthquakes in advance to predicting who will win the next election. It promises us answers to vexing problems: like how to stop the tuberculosis bacterium from developing further antibiotic resistance. And it promises to improve the quality of our lives: from helping us to identify and prevent disease to reducing crime.

But in no field is big data so promising as in health. Due to the sheer size and availability of existing health databases, the rate of technological innovation and rise of personalised medicine, big data health applications have the potential to make a huge impact on how we prevent, treat and cure disease. Additionally, big data in health can drastically change how policymakers and governments manage public health, including through the better use of resources, in managing epidemics, in improving medical research and in encouraging preventative methods of disease management.

This report builds upon ideas discussed at a McKell Institute roundtable hosted in May 2016. Participants discussed the challenges and opportunities presented by big data in health, and provided ideas and recommendations as to how we can effectively capture those opportunities.

The report begins with an overview of big data in health in Australia, before outlining some of the possibilities and opportunities posed. It then discusses the challenges that are facing stakeholders and policymakers in the effective use of big data in meeting these opportunities. Finally, a series of recommendations are presented that are directed at the Federal and state and territory governments, but which will require the engagement of healthcare stakeholders in order to be fully implemented.

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