Nation’s health report looks in rear view mirror: real-time data needed

Thursday, July 23, 2020

‘It’s high time the nation’s two-yearly Australia’s Health report talked about what’s happening now rather than what happened years ago’, says Alison Verhoeven, Chief Executive of the Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association (AHHA).

Australia’s Health 2020 was released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW), the government statutory agency responsible for health and welfare statistics.

‘The AIHW does valuable work, and the Australia’s Health report is a useful compendium of all their work in health statistics’, Ms Verhoeven said.

‘But it’s old-fashioned, it is of a time when timely national data on health was hard to come by, so we were happy with our perception of current reality being based on data that was up to 4 years old—as is still the case with cancer data.

‘But that was then, this is now—COVID-19 has exposed many cracks in our health system, including the absolute need for real-time health data.

‘And the AIHW needs the backing of all governments and healthcare providers in order to make this happen.

‘We want to know what impact COVID-19 is having on particular population groups. We want to know the numbers of COVID patients being treated in acute care, intensive care and primary care—and the impact this is having on the availability of workforce and resources.

‘It would be useful to know of any change in numbers of deaths during first half of 2020 compared with previous years given that we have had the worst bushfires and the worst pandemic in living memory. (ABS have already reported a spike in deaths in the period to end April).

‘This kind of information is more useful in our current circumstances than how long we could expect to live if we were born 2–4 years ago’, Ms Verhoeven said.

‘We want to know the effect of suspension of elective surgery during the pandemic on elective surgery waiting times right now, not “later in the year” as promised by AIHW.

‘Indeed, it would be good to know what the queue is like in the nearest emergency department in real time.

‘We want to know more details about the current use of telehealth during the pandemic, and for what conditions. This will help in planning for telehealth post-COVID-19.

‘People expect real-time data because the technology exists to produce it.

‘The AIHW’s Deputy Director Matthew James himself says “We expect the demand for ‘near real-time’ data will increase as a result of COVID-19 and the AIHW’s future planning will consider our capacity to deliver information more quickly, while maintaining quality and accuracy.” 

‘The horse bolted on this a while ago in our view, and the situation needs rapid national catch-up action now rather than a promise to consider the AIHW’s capacity to do it in future planning.

‘By the time that promise turns into action, the real-time data horse will be well over the horizon.’

The Australia’s Health 2020 report is available on the AIHW website (

The Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association is the national peak body for public and not-for-profit hospitals, Primary Health Networks, and community and primary healthcare services.



Media enquiries: Alison Verhoeven, Chief Executive, AHHA, 0403 282 501