Jennifer Doggett writes:
Which regions of Australia have the highest rate of low birth-weight babies? Are males in regional and remote areas more at risk of mental illness than those in cities? Where do children in ‘jobless’ families live? Do women in the most disadvantaged areas have lower rates of breast screening than those in the most advantaged areas?
Answering questions such as these can help identify areas of need within the Australian health system and inform the development of appropriate policies and the allocation of resources. The more accurate, comprehensive and localised the data we can obtain, the more responsive we can be to differences within and between regions in our large and diverse continent.
National data sets on many health indicators are widely available but often of limited use to people wanting to address specific problems at a local level. Extracting local area data from these data sets can be difficult, if not impossible, for many researchers.
This issue is being addressed by the Public Health Information Development Unit (PHIDU) which was established at the University of Adelaide in 1999 to provide information to policy makers, health service planners, researchers and other health stakeholders on a broad range of health and other determinants across the life course.
PHIDU is attending the 4th Rural and Remote Health Scientific Symposium in Canberra this week, in order to demonstrate the tools it has developed to delegates and discuss with them the ways in which it can support their research.
PHIDU focuses on publishing small area statistics for monitoring inequality in health and wellbeing, and for supporting opportunities for the prevention of, and early intervention in, the development of adverse population health outcomes.
Since 2008, PHIDU has offered online access to a comprehensive range of data at national, jurisdictional, regional and small area levels for Australia at no cost to users.
The data describe the demographic characteristics of individuals and families; and provide various measures of socioeconomic status and health status (including estimates of the prevalence of major chronic diseases and associated risk factors), disability, community capacity and strength, early childhood development and learning outcomes and the population’s use of health protection, screening and treatment services.
Data are also published for premature deaths across the life course, from infants to adults, in addition to the more recent concept of avoidable mortality.
PHIDU demonstrates socioeconomic and geographical variations in health through interactive atlases and graphs, underpinned by data tables and metadata and, where possible, analysed by age, sex and Indigenous status.
This web-based source of data on health and its determinants is unique in Australia, and has been recognised as an innovative and useful approach internationally, by agencies such as the World Health Organization.
In mid-September PHIDU will release its latest data based on a new set of areas called Population Health Areas (PHAs), regions which are large enough to support robust population health data and small enough to be useful for the development of local policies, programs and services. For the first time this data will include figures on tobacco use within PHAs.
Mark Brennan, Executive Officer at the South West Primary Care Partnership in Victoria, has used PHIDU data to identify areas of specific need within the region covered by his organisation and to advocate for specific funding, programs and services.
“Most State Government data only goes down to the Local Government Area. However, this is not specific enough for us to develop effective partnerships to meet local community needs. Within an LGA there can be significant variability with pockets of disadvantage in a relatively affluent area and vice versa.
PHIDU is unique in that it can drill down into the LGAs to obtain data on a much smaller area which allows us to accurately map service need within our region and to develop the service mix required to meet these needs.
PHIDU has given us a valuable tool to advocate for our communities need with governments and other funders – you can’t argue with the data!”
• Follow the conference discussions on Twitter at #ruralhealthsymp.