Despite our open borders, high vaccination rates, and more or less unrestricted ability to socialise, we are still living through a global pandemic.

COVID-19 infections are again on the rise across Australia, with approximately 50 deaths and more than 30,000 new infections being recorded each day. As we move towards the back end of 2022, we can safely say this once in a generation health crisis is far from behind us.

Since the virus arrived on our shores in early 2020 our healthcare systems have been forced to make some significant choices. How to prioritise the care of COVID patients over others? How to best manage infection control? What treatments are needed? As a federally funded research collective born on the eve of the pandemic, the Digital Health CRC (DHCRC) has supported numerous projects designed to tackle issues caused by the pandemic, including the COVID-19 – utilising near real-time electronic General Practice data to establish effective care project led by Professor Andrew Georgiou.

Professor Georgiou from the Centre of Health Systems and Safety Research at the Australian Institute of Health Innovation at Macquarie University says this project is designed to make use of real-time general practice data to help healthcare professionals identify emerging trends relating to COVID-19 diagnosis, treatments, and medications.

“Our project began in 2020 during the onset of the pandemic and amid major policy decisions about the prioritisation of health care and the management of infection control,” said Professor Georgiou.

“These policies have led to major concerns about the long-term impact on patient care and outcomes, particularly in areas related to mental health, the diagnosis of new conditions and the impact on disease and cancer screening programs.”

The interruption of normal patterns of health care over the past two and half years, and the suspension of services, has put a great strain on healthcare systems across Australia. That is why projects like Professor Georgiou’s are so important.

Electronic general practice data is a valuable resource which can be used to inform population and individual care decision-making processes. This is a terrific way to ease the pressure across the entire healthcare system.

“Electronic general practice data is a crucial resource which can contribute to informed decision-making for general practice clinics. For most Australians general practice is the place of initial contact with the health system. This makes it key to identifying and monitoring the health of the community and tackling the clinical consequences of the pandemic,” said Professor Georgiou.

This research project is a collaboration involving a coalition of stakeholders, including not only the DHCRC and Macquarie University but also Outcome Health, Gippsland, Eastern Melbourne, and South Eastern Melbourne Primary Health Networks (PHNs), and the Royal College of Pathologists of Australasia Quality Assurance Programs, with participation from Central and Eastern Sydney and South Western Sydney PHNs.

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