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Linking data to improve health outcomes

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To the Editor: The editorial by Olver1 is a reminder of the usefulness of linking health datasets for research and evaluation. While data linkage is not a foreign concept to many health services researchers, such work with regard to Australian primary care is very limited. The recent review of Medicare Locals noted that the few linkages created “only occur in pockets and are often constrained by administrative, collaborative and/or legislative factors”.2 The public interest is not served by these barriers.

The unavailability of and lack of access to general practice data have hindered our ability to build a comprehensive picture of the interface between general practice and other health care services.3 The benefits of linking anonymised, individual-level general practice data with other routinely collected health data are enormous; it enables us to map the entire patient journey both retrospectively and prospectively, gives us an insight into patients’ use of health services, and provides us with the opportunity to assess whether the organisation of care for patients is effective and whether health services can be accessed by patients at the “right time”. Such capabilities are very relevant for addressing issues such as the increasing demand for emergency department services and access to after-hours…