A report today released by the AIHW sets out the gold standard for general practice reporting on primary health care.
The report, Review and evaluation of Australian information about primary health care; a focus on general practice, finds that ideally, general practice data should link every prescription, procedure, test or other treatment option to a diagnosis or symptom pattern, and, over time, to overall outcomes for the patient.
The report highlights important ownership, privacy, consent, security and other legal issues that need to be tackled before national electronic collection of general practice data could get under way.
It also shows the need for early common ground on standards, protocols and infrastructure-internationally these have been the keys to success with electronic patient records.
'The low take-up so far of electronic clinical record-keeping in Australian GP surgeries is a challenge, but GP groups say they are willing to participate-as long as they can see that the data will be useful in improving government policy or the health of their patients', Ms Dixon said.
'The report advocates building on what's currently available while moving to full national electronic data collection in general practice. This will be a complex process and will take some time and considerable resources'.
'But it's also important that other non-clinical but still very useful information continues to be collected into the future that puts primary health care services in context-particularly data about the primary care workforce and patient satisfaction.'
'Although primary health care is the cornerstone of the health care system, as a nation we don't have a comprehensive picture of the outcomes of care provided in general practice' said report co-author Tracy Dixon.
'It's not that we don't have any information-there are several Australian data collections relevant to general practice.'
'But there are gaps and limitations in what we know, and this makes it more difficult for governments, doctors and the community to build a better health system'.
'For example there is little information available on overall quality of services'.
'And we don't know if some parts of Australia are doing better than others in terms of access to treatment and better health for patients.'