Develop pandemic data standards to improve data sharing, Australia’s CSIRO suggests
The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, Australia’s national science agency, is suggesting developing national pandemic data standards to improve the data collection and sharing as part of the country’s future pandemic response.
This is one of the agency’s recommendations to the government on data sharing for informed response strategies during pandemics.
WHAT IT’S ABOUT
CSIRO stressed the importance of data recording and messaging standards to improve data quality at the point of entry, and thus, enable interoperability. Due to the lack of uniform data standards in Australia, there has been difficulty in exchanging data across health systems. This challenge was further exacerbated during the pandemic, especially for novel pathogens, as standards were developed independently among health regions and even institutions.
It said specific pandemic response data collection standards and implementation guides could be developed for major diseases caused by the identified priority viral families.
The government could build on existing initiatives to streamline this development, such as expanding the Australian Digital Health Agency’s (ADHA) work on a digital standards catalogue to include data standards to support a pandemic response; using existing standards, such as SNOMED CT for clinical data and HL7 FHIR for exchanging information, as foundation; or aligning national standards with international standards to facilitate global collaboration.
Aside from this, the agency also recommended improving the country’s capabilities to link health data with non-health data, including geo-referenced socio-economic, intervention compliance, movement, and environmental data.
“Successfully linking health and non-health data can help to anticipate patterns of spread during pandemics, provide projections on the success of interventions, and inform response decision making by utilising predictive modelling and epidemiology methodologies,” it explained.
Its third recommendation regarding data sharing is to design and integrate smart analytics that can share and analyse sensitive data at a national level. Analysing such type of data alongside other health data could provide continuous real-time insights to inform pandemic responses in a secure manner, the agency claimed.
WHY IT MATTERS
CSIRO emphasised that health data is crucial for informing pandemic response strategies. Having standards that support data collection, terminology, storage, and sharing processes, ensures the health system’s capability to share data between institutions and jurisdictions.
However, the Australian health system is confronted by limitations in data sharing due to the varying governance of health systems and the inconsistent adoption of technologies and standards. Such limitations have also hampered timely and well-informed policy decision-making, especially during pandemics.
While the country has novel technologies that can integrate diverse data for policy decision-making, it is “not as mature for pandemic responses,” the agency said.
CSIRO hopes that by the end of this decade, Australia would have implemented national health data standards across jurisdictions and adaptable guidelines for pandemic responses, both of which will support interoperable health data collection systems and will enable the use of non-health and sensitive data to inform government decision-making during pandemics.
THE LARGER CONTEXT
The focus on data sharing for informing pandemic response strategies is one of the key six science and technology (S&T) areas identified by CSIRO that are critical to minimising the impact of future pandemics in Australia.
In the report titled, Strengthening Australia’s Pandemic Preparedness, the agency outlined ways that the federal government can improve the country’s resilience to emerging pandemics, reduce their economic impact, and protect the community.
As CSIRO just recommended the adoption of uniform data standards in health data exchange, the ADHA is already working with Health Level Seven Australia to improve connectivity across the national healthcare system by promoting the consistent adoption of FHIR standards across the country’s health system. This forms part of the draft National Healthcare Interoperability Plan, which envisions a more connected Australian health system by 2027.