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The community impact of NCRIS

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Dr Merran Smith, Chief Executive, Population Health Research Network

Merran Smith PHRNThe Population Health Research Network (PHRN) supports world class research through privacy-preserving linkage of administrative data.

The NCRIS program has contributed over $42 million to our work since it started in 2009, with PHRN partner organisations also making substantial additional cash and in-kind contributions to our infrastructure.

As a result of the NCRIS funding, we have established new data linkage units in Queensland, Victoria, Tasmania and South Australia and provided support to existing units in the Australian Capital Territory, New South Wales and Western Australia. We have also established a number of eResearch tools to assist researchers to access linked data including a secure remote access data laboratory, a secure file transfer system and an online application system.

As a direct result of the NCRIS investment, core health data held by state and territory governments can now be provided in linked form to support a wide range of health and human services research. Data held by the Australian Government can be linked to state and territory data to enable a complete picture of health care activities in Australia. The community directly benefits from the research using linked data through evidence-based policy and changes in treatment practices.

Examples of the important research that has been completed using Australian linked data include:

  • measuring the safety of surgical procedures such as aortic valve replacement in elderly patients
  • establishing the effectiveness of vaccines such as Gardasil for cervical cancer prevention
  • describing the adverse reactions that can occur with some pharmaceuticals.

The demand for linked data available through PHRN-supported facilities continues to grow. Current projects include assessing the benefits of childhood immunisation, whilst planned projects include measuring the effectiveness of therapies for cancer patients with specific genetic changes.

The great strength of research done using linked data is that the information already exists in data collections all around the country. The linkage process simply enables this data to be pulled together and made available for approved research projects.

With NCRIS support, Australia’s data linkage system now contains decades of data enabling changes in the health of Australians to be tracked over time. Few other countries can track the health of their populations in the way that Australia now can.

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