Use of Longitudinal and Linked Population Data in Health Research

Program Leader - Professor Julie Byles

Population data are important for understanding not only patterns of use of health services, but also the impact of health care use on the health of the community. Such data may be derived from routine data sets (such as hospital separations data) or may be collected through population surveys.

Longitudinal population surveys are particularly useful for determining the trends in health service use within and across different population groups and communities, factors associated with health care use, and those patterns of use that are associated with better physical and mental health over time.

These studies are of increasing interest and importance as the average age of the population increases and the demands on health care expand.

This strand of our research activities builds on the group's experience in dealing with population data from routine data sources and from population surveys, and our investment into the development of longitudinal studies to explore issues of healthy ageing.

Three studies will provide the infrastructure on which to build this capacity:

  • The Australian Longitudinal Study on Women's Health (ALSWH)
    Involves over 55,000 women in four age groups (Age at baseline in 1996: 18-23, 45-50, 70-75 with a new cohort enrolled in 2013 aged 18-23) who have now been surveyed repeatedly. Survey data are linked to data from Medicare Australia and Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS), hospital separations data for NSW and plans are underway to also link with Home and Community Care (HACC) data, Aged Care data and other health service data sets and disease registries.
  • The 45 and Up study
    Involves 266,000 people, survey data are to be linked to Medicare Australia, PBS, NSW Hospital data, NSW HACC data and the NSW Cancer registry. There is an intention to collect biological data from participants at some future time.
  • The Hunter Community Study (HCS)
    Expects to recruit up to 10,000 individuals. Participants have provided consent for linkage to Medicare Australia, PBS, NSW Hospital data, NSW Cancer registry, the Hunter Heart and Stoke register, other local registers. The Hunter Community Study is based within NIPH-HMRI. Clinical and biological data are also collected, and biological

These sets of studies provide enormous infrastructure for understanding the interplay between health and health care utilization for people across the adult lifespan.

Our research program involves powerful and robust analyses regarding a number of important research questions, including:

  • factors associated with maintenance of independence and mobility at later ages,
  • factors associated with domestic violence and adverse childhood events and the impact on later life health and well being,
  • incidence, natural history and prevention of chronic conditions, including cognitive impairment, chronic airflow limitation, cardiovascular disease, diabetes,
    obesity and cancer,
  • prevention of falls and fractures through behavioural and environmental factors,
  • impact of chronic conditions (e.g. arthritis, asthma, diabetes, cardiovascular disease) and medication for these conditions on health and health services use,
  • adequacy of treatment of depression and other mental health needs,
  • chronic disease self management and rehabilitation,
  • the role of informal carers in providing services for frail aged and disabled persons and;
  • differential need for and access to health services across urban, rural and remote areas, and across socioeconomic determinants of health.

The information provided will be critical in understanding the health needs of the community, those factors within individuals, communities, and health care systems that are most effective in averting or meeting health needs, and how individuals and communities can better manage their health.