05 December 2023

The Victorian Department of Health has recently developed an umbrella information sharing agreement with each of Victoria’s six Primary Health Networks (PHNs). The agreement has patient privacy and security of information at its foundation, while allowing for two-way data sharing between the department and PHNs. 

Primary Health Networks are responsible for planning and commissioning primary care and community services for Victorians within a geographical catchment area; complementary services to those provided in and by hospitals. The information sharing agreement recognises that all parts of Victoria’s health system must work together to improve Victorians’ health and wellbeing. 

The agreement allows the department and PHNs access to data collected from different healthcare pathways, not usually possible in our siloed health system. This is expected to be a game changer for future joint projects, as good information and data are essential to develop evidence-based policy and programs. 

VAHI developed the umbrella agreement through extensive consultation with Victorian PHNs and the department’s legal branch. It covers aspects including use and disclosure of information, intellectual property, security, ethics, and privacy. Extra detail on data items to be shared, frequency of data releases, and any privacy or ethical approvals specific to the project will be documented in an annexure for each project agreed between the department and participating PHNs. 

Signing of the first annexure (and agreement) was completed in August 2023 to support PHNs’ health needs assessments. It establishes a regular flow of de-identified hospital admission and emergency department data from the department to PHNs. This hospital data will be used by PHNs for planning and commissioning of primary and community health services within the PHN’s catchment area. Discussions are also underway to share de-identified data on planned surgery waiting lists and state-funded community health service use.   

Ms Emma McKeown, Executive Director, Insight, Performance and Digital Services at North Western Melbourne PHN led development of the agreement on behalf of all six Victorian PHNs.  “Now it’s developed, the agreement will allow us to access data on acute services more easily for our annual planning cycles. This means we can spend more time understanding how our community uses a broader range of services in our area, so we can fill service gaps through commissioning. Being able to add annexures for new projects – rather than developing a whole new agreement for each project – will also save time and let us focus on the project rather than the administration,” Ms McKeown said.   

Ms McKeown noted the deidentified hospital data has already been used to inform a comprehensive needs assessment for the western metropolitan catchment, undertaken as a collaboration between North Western Melbourne PHN and the West Metro Health Service Partnership. 

The assessment report is being used to support clinical service planning in the participating health services and inform further engagement with health services’ population health committees regarding the findings. The project, not possible without the data, has also created broader interest in the needs assessment approach from health services and public health units outside the catchment area. 

In early December 2023, the department and all six Victorian PHNs will meet to discuss other opportunities for data sharing to support joint projects. A project to link general practice data with hospital data is being scoped, with PHN representation led by South Eastern Melbourne PHN. 

This project is intended to eventually show general practice and acute care service use by the same de-identified individual, in doing so, outlining their ‘care pathway’. 

This project will help both GPs and hospitals to better understand how people move between different parts of the health system, particularly when managing chronic disease. This will allow the department, PHNs and participating General Practitioners to develop ways to help Victorians stay out of hospital through early intervention, which might include more regularly visiting their GP. 

Dr Galina Daraganova, Executive Director, Data, Evidence and Impact at South Eastern Melbourne PHN is heading up the South Eastern Melbourne PHN team. 

“This is an exciting Victorian-first project that will shed light on how people in our community move through the health system. We’ve been working with the department in the very early stages of the project, and we’ll continue to work closely with the department, GPs in our area and with people with lived experience, to make sure that our increased visibility of the data is translated into real action that improves the lives of people in our area,” said Dr Daraganova.

The flexible approach to the information sharing agreement has been developed to support joint projects between the department and PHNs, bringing together the different parts of the health system for better outcomes for Victorians.     

For more information on the information sharing agreement, and our efforts to link data to support better outcomes for Victorians, contact VAHI’s Manager, Priority Projects, Kate Riley Sandler via [email protected].