Mining health data the future boom, not mining

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The mining boom of the future could come from the mining of health data, according to Research Australia.

The alliance of 160 member organisations tasked with advocating for health and medical research has released further data from its recent annual poll that showed strong consumer support for the $20 billion Medical Research Future Fund.

The Roy Morgan poll of 1,040 Australians found 91 per cent of people would be willing to share their de-identified medical data if it went towards research purposes. Around three quarters (74 per cent) said they would support it being used to improve patient care while 60 per cent supported its use by officials to track diseases.

“The Australian health system has not effectively supported the collection and use of health data for research purposes in the past – and what we are saying is that the privacy considerations and other barriers can be overcome with enormous benefits as a result," said Research Australia CEO, Nadia Levin.

“Around 4.1 million Australians currently have a My Health Record and we need to increase that number so that researchers can access de-identified data and put it to work to find new cures.

“Right now there are trials underway in the Blue Mountains and North Queensland of an opt-out rather than opt-in system for My Health records, and that holds great promise for researchers and for improving the health of all Australians."

Health Minister Sussan Ley announced last year the My Health Record would replace the Personally Controlled Electronic Health Record. The trials covering around one million Australians in Far North Queensland and in the New South Wales Nepean Blue Mountains region started earlier this year.

“If we make better use of our Australian data to understand our own health needs, we can develop solutions that lead to new and better drugs and therapies for ourselves. The logical next step is taking homegrown innovation to international markets," said Ms Levin.

“Put another way, there is a very real possibility that the mining boom of the future could come from mining our own health data.

“It is encouraging to see significant levels of support for data sharing as we continue along the My Health journey,” she said. “Whilst privacy has been raised as an issue in e-health, this data shows that if data can be protected and is used to improve the health system, Australians support it. This is absolutely doable - we can protect privacy and at the same time mine the data to improve our health system.”