Fifteen years of mental health patient data across Western Australia will be used in a new project that will compare experiences and outcomes to help find treatment patterns that are both effective, and cost-effective.

“We will look at the groups of people who have had better outcomes from their mental health treatment, who have long-term remission and recovery, and look for patterns in the kinds of services they accessed and the frequency of treatment,” says Professor Suzanne Robinson, who is leading the project.

Professor Robinson is DHCRC’s Flagship Research and Education Director for Rural and Remote Health, and also leads Curtin University’s Health Systems and Health Economics theme.

The four-year, $900K project is a collaboration between the Digital Health CRC, Curtin University, the WA Department of Health, WA Country Health Services and WA Primary Health Alliance, titled Using data analytics and economic modelling to support population health planning and clinical management of mental health patients.

“There has been a significant increase in the demand for mental health services over the past year and our hospitals are stretched. This project will help us to decide where best to allocate resources to address the needs of the patients and improve their clinical outcomes,” says James Williamson, who is WA Department of Health’s Assistant Director General of the Clinical Excellence Division.

“Patients with mental health problems regularly complain that their care is fragmented and uncoordinated. This project will highlight where the breakdowns occur and how best they might be addressed,” he says.

Unique dataset

The project uses a unique dataset collated by WA’s Office of the Auditor General under its mental health performance audit. It includes health and medical information from public and private hospitals (including in-patient, emergency department and outpatient clinics) and community health and psychiatric services.

The data covers all individuals who have engaged with the state’s mental health system since 2005, covering around half a million people, 20 million records and over 250 attributes, and will be updated on an ongoing basis.

“Everywhere and every time a person touches a mental health service across the state, that data is captured, giving us a really good picture of people accessing these services,” Professor Robinson says.

She says that the dataset gives WA Health a remarkable opportunity to gain insight into the effectiveness of mental health services, and could provide an insight into how best to avoid unnecessary presentations to emergency departments.

Using sophisticated data analysis techniques, the project will look at patient journeys through the healthcare system, and report how different services relate to each another in the delivery of services to certain groups.

“This will help us better understand the outcomes associated with different activities and activity clusters,” Professor Robinson says.

The project has great potential to show which combinations of treatment patterns can deliver better outcomes, she says.

One in five experience mental health condition

One in five Australians aged 16-85 experience a mental health condition in any given year, with around half the population experiencing mental disorder in their lifetime. Those with mental disorders have poorer health outcomes and a gap in life expectancy.

“The project looks at, what’s the optimal level of care? How much is it costing us? And what could we do better? What could we do differently?” says Professor Robinson, adding that the data covers highly complex, multi-faceted groups of health consumers.

“We know that there’s a relatively small group of people that use mental health services a lot more, and are a lot sicker,” she says.

“At the other end of the scale are people with much milder conditions; many recover with a small amount of support, while others may progress to become more severe.”

Comparing trends and patterns may give better insight into these different groups, she says.

“Optimal care is not just about the appropriate use of resources but also about timing, so the support comes at the right time in a person’s journey and they can avoid emergency department presentations and hospitalisations.”

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