Why Government Data Sharing Efforts Are a Mess

Photo credit: iStockphoto/joey333

In the Sydney Local Health District (SLHD), a data visualization app that combines information from multiple systems is helping the hospital combat the opioid crisis.

Of the 50,000 or so patients presenting with lower back pain each year at emergency departments, 70% are given highly addictive opioids to help treat the pain. This is regardless of the harm that opioids may cause them in the long run and the potential cost to the health system.

With the SLHD Targeted Activity and Reporting System app, however, combining siloed patient data on demographics, pathology, diagnostics, and allied health care can help emergency department clinicians to make better decisions for patients.

In addition to the advantages of patients not being exposed to opioids, it is hoped this will curb Australia’s AUD 4.8 billion annual spend managing lower back pain, a condition that reduces Australian GDP by AUD 3.2 billion a year by keeping people out of the workforce.

Across the other side of the world in the U.K., the Avon and Somerset police forces are sharing data, saving almost GBP 60 million, improving response management, and helping identify key suspects.

The force used the shared data and analytics tools to capture 25 “most wanted” suspects in the region over a week in 2018.

Solving the jigsaw puzzle

According to Charlie Farah, the Sydney-based director of Public Health and Public Sector for Qlik, these examples point the way forward to a world not so much of big data, but shared data.

"Often it's the bigger picture that comes from the sharing that creates the most insight, rather than seeing things in isolation," says Farah. The data analytics vendor provided the solutions in both case studies.

Multi-agency collaborations can deliver significant benefits in terms of cost savings, public health and security.

Farah’s message is that shared data is transformative. Multi-agency collaborations with robust frameworks and modern analytics have the potential to deliver significant benefits not just in terms of cost, but also in areas such as public health and security.

It can help address sustainability and climate change, process services faster, identify domestic violence, and keep crime rates low.

Consumerizing data

One issue is, however, that consumers have been slow to the table. Without their permission and engagement, the scale and extent of collaboration can be limited, and with that, the results.

The SLHD and U.K. policing case studies point the way forward and showcase potential, but – in Australia, at least – consumer engagement has been limited.

While State Governments – and the NSW Government in Sydney is leading the way with its innovations at Service NSW – have made progress, it has stalled at the national level.

One glaring example is the Federal Government’s My Health Record system, initially launched in 2012 as a way for patients, doctors, and specialists to share patient histories.

After four years, only four million people had created a record by 2016. Even less had actually populated their file with data.

To kickstart the system again, the Government announced in 2018 that it would be opt-out, meaning that unless people explicitly stated, a record would be created for them.

The result was that after spending close to AUD 2 billion, only 12 million records have data in them – less than half of the Australian population.

"We need to see the Government do better to consumerize the data story so that people can support some of these decisions.” – Charlie Farah, Qlik

Much of this has been uploaded by Government agencies and very little by individuals, underlining the extent of disengagement.

According to Farah, the key to improvement is "data literacy."

“Governments have been far too detached from people on the ground, and they need to engage them in a more intimate way,” he says.

“Consumerization is the new black; we need to see the Government do better to consumerize the data story so that people can support some of these decisions.”

Data sharing part 2

Australia is currently in the consultation period for a new Data Sharing and Release Act, an AUD 65 million reform of national data systems that would remove legislative – and cultural – barriers to data use and re-use in the public sector.

The argument is that agencies such as the Australian Taxation Office, Home Affairs, and Health all hold massive datasets, and combining them can create value, convenience, and better services as well as save on costs.

"Australians expect government services to be simple, seamless, and secure because that's their lived experience." – Government Services Minister Stuart Robert

"Now more than ever, Australians expect government services to be simple, seamless, and secure because that's their lived experience of other services like shopping and banking,” said Government Services Minister Stuart Robert, echoing the idea of consumerization.

“Unlike a bank or a business, when Australians face an unsatisfying experience with government services, they aren’t able to shop around and they aren’t able to look for a different service provider.”

Untrustworthy governments

Australia, like neighboring New Zealand, is moving to an Open Data regime that holds significant promise.

The Australian Parliament has passed the Consumer Data Right, and the banking sector is the first cab off the rank in terms of implementing Open Data, with the utilities sector to follow.

Less clear is what is likely to happen in the Government sector. The Government's Discussion paper, says Minister Robert, includes "enhanced safeguards, privacy and security protections."

"The new laws will enshrine these protections, along with a clear, consistent, and transparent approach to the sharing of public sector data."

This is clearly critical to the success of data sharing, and the reality is that Governments have yet to prove they can be trusted.

Some initiatives will be possible, but only if that trust is won and engagement follows can the floodgates of potential open.

In the meantime, spending some of the IT budget on public data literacy might not go astray.

Photo credit: iStockphoto/joey333