National ambulance data system recognised

Monday, 27 September, 2021

National ambulance data system recognised

The team behind the National Ambulance Surveillance System (NASS), a data collection system pulling together information from ambulance callouts across the country, has been recognised as a finalist in Research Australia’s awards.

The national health and medical research peak body, Research Australia’s 18th Health and Medical Research Awards recognise the outstanding efforts and achievements of individuals and teams who drive and support the opportunities that health and medical innovation bring to our lives. The NASS team has been shortlisted as a finalist in the Data Innovation category, sponsored by Bupa Health Foundation.

The data collection system records information from ambulance callouts relating to alcohol and drug use, self-harm and suicide, allowing health services, policymakers and NGOs to track these key indicators and see a fuller data picture on the effectiveness of related interventions.

The value of this work is highlighted by the latest NASS data on alcohol and other drug misuse and overdose released by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Key findings released in ‘Alcohol and other drugs in Australia’ include: between 2015 and 2020, the highest rates of alcohol and other drug-related ambulance attendances were related to alcohol intoxication; multiple drugs (excluding alcohol) were involved in over half of ambulance attendances related to sedatives or painkillers in 2020; in 2020, ambulance attendances related to sedatives or painkillers were predominantly for females, while attendances for alcohol and other drugs were predominantly for males.

Research Australia CEO Nadia Levin congratulated the NASS team on delivering this globally unique collaboration with demonstrable impact.

“Initially developed to understand heroin-related harms in metropolitan Melbourne, this project has grown to capture national data on all alcohol and drug-related harms, suicide and self-harm ambulance attendances,” Levin said.

“Importantly, the data is also flexible and can be adapted to capture emerging issues at a population level, including violence-related data. This is a wonderful example of innovation in health and medical data, delivering information that can help steer public policy response for better community health outcomes.”

State and territory ambulance services provide an extract of their patient clinical records to Turning Point, a national addiction research and treatment centre, where trained research assistants read and annotate each record — creating a timely and accurate population-based surveillance dataset. The NASS recently received a Google grant to introduce artificial intelligence techniques to help annotate the data, allowing results to be reported faster for greater insight and impact.

Assistant Professor Debbie Scott, Strategic Lead at Turning Point and Monash University, said establishing the data collection had involved significant collaboration, breaking down historical silos between jurisdictions.

“This project provides an ongoing representative national data source to allow government and NGOs to evaluate policy and interventions, helping ensure funding is being used effectively to save lives and reduce the damage caused by suicide, self-harm, alcohol and other drugs,” she said.

“The richness and precision of this data helps health authorities remain flexible and understand emerging contemporary issues, such as the long-term impact of bushfires, or how COVID has changed mental health, violence, and drug and alcohol harms.

“It’s a fabulous example of different jurisdictions and services working together, and we’re proud to be recognised for this work.”

The NASS is a collaborative effort between state ambulance services, Turning Point and Monash University, with funding from the Commonwealth Department of Health, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare and the Victorian Department of Health.

The winners of the Health and Medical Research Awards will be announced at a gala award ceremony in Sydney on 9 December.

Image credit: © shaff

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