The WA Data Linkage System was formally established in 1995 as a collaboration between the Department of Health WA, the University of Western Australia (UWA), Telethon Kids Institute (then the Telethon Institute for Child Health Research) and Curtin University.
Recognising the potential community benefit of using linked health data for research, the initial setup and operational costs were met through grant funding from the WA Lotteries Commission. In 1997 the Department of Health WA took over as majority funder and established the Data Linkage Branch, now called Data Linkage Services.
As there has been a rapid increase in the demand for linked data for research and government planning, our directorate has grown and evolved to meet the community’s needs.
Provision of data services is made possible through the expertise and dedication of several teams at the WA Department of Health, who each contribute to our culture of continuous improvement. Find out more about how our teams are organised to ensure adherence to the Separation Principle on our Privacy page.
ISPD Client Services
The ISPD Client Services team manage and coordinate queries and requests for data on behalf of the entire directorate through the data request pipeline. Our Request Coordinators liaise with clients and internal business units to facilitate requests, and track and monitor progress of open requests.
Data Engineers in Linkage undertake a variety of duties, primarily the routine linkage of core datasets and the preparation of study groups and linkage key extractions for projects. The Data Linkage team also perform other value-adding activities, including geocoding, creation of genealogical links via the Family Connections System and the development of new linkage and quality improvement strategies.
Linkage duties include completing routine updates for core infrastructure data collections, and completing “ad-hoc” linkages for specific projects or purposes. This work contributes to significant improvements to health policy and care, and to significant data infrastructure projects and developments for over two decades, such as:
- Pioneering cross-agency linkages with the Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages (1996) and State Electoral Commission (1999), and later via the Road Safety Project and Developmental Pathways Project (both 2006);
- Undertaking the first linkage of Commonwealth Medical Benefits Scheme (MBS) and Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) data (2004);
- The development of assorted value-adding data enhancements, such as geocoding functions and related spatial data (1997), the family connections system and genealogical links (2007), and the derived Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander status flag (2012);
- Development of a COVID-19 Vaccination Linked Data Repository (CVLDR) through linking Australian Immunisation Register (AIR) data and public and private pathology datasets to hospital administrative datasets, to enable near-real time reporting on COVID-19 data (2020).
Data Linkage Strategy
The Strategy team operate across multiple workstreams within the Data and Information Systems unit and collaborate with cross-sectoral and cross-jurisdictional working groups to support significant infrastructure upgrades aligned with State and National priorities. The Program currently includes projects such as:
- Evolution of linkage and integration infrastructure, including automation of data pipelines and linkage technologies;
- Developing data sharing agreements to establish routine linkage of administrative cross-sectoral datasets, key clinical datasets, and Commonwealth datasets;
- Providing strategic advice for whole-of-government linked data initiatives (including PeopleWA) to drive data-led decision making and service improvements;
- Review and streamlining of current linkage application processes;
- Development of a sustainable funding and charging model;
- Defining and communicating data linkage roles and responsibilities;
- Leading the trial implementation of a secure access environment;
- Investigating privacy preserving linkage mechanisms and applications for synthetic data;
- Supporting implementation of contemporary data sharing and information governance principles through policy reform; and
- Developing best practice and requirements guidelines to support data providers.
The Strategy team are responsible for the leadership and management of working groups to deliver, monitor and evaluate projects within the Data Linkage Strategy and Reform Program. This includes the establishment and maintenance of the Data Linkage Strategy governance framework, identification and allocation of resources, stakeholder engagement and consultation, provision of expert analytical advice, preparation of strategic and project documents, risk management, and mandatory reporting.
Some achievements of the Innovation Laboratory include:
- Building and implementing Data Linkage System No. 3 (DLS3), a bespoke purpose-built linkage upgrade to the WA Data Linkage System, expanding linkage functions to ensure a more integrated and scalable architecture to support the growing needs of Data Linkage Services (2018);
- Migration of the WA Data Linkage System infrastructure to a secure cloud-based server for a more robust and adaptable environment, supporting advancements in machine learning and automation technologies (2021);
- Investigating representative synthetic health data through a proof-of-concept project for potential use in systems testing, research studies, and external research collaborations (2022).
Within the Innovation team, a dedicated Systems team of technical experts support our Data Engineers and the WADLS infrastructure. Their role is to ensure the WADLS and other servers and systems are well maintained, secure and best equipped to manage the diverse and ever-increasing volume of data handled by the various teams. This team consists of programmers and a Systems Administrator, who write software, maintain server architecture, and assist staff to keep technical operations running smoothly.
The Outputs team is responsible for the data infrastructure of the Data Warehouse, and using this data, perform cohort selections and extraction of linked content data on behalf of a number of Data Collections. The team also performs merging, data quality checking on content data to be delivered to Data Applicants, and preparation of metadata and documentation to assist Data Applicants with their analysis.
Notable achievements of our Data Engineers in the data linkage space includes:
- Streamlining the delivery of linked data through the Custodian Administered Research Extract Server (CARES) in 2013;
- Implementing complex infrastructure for the Social Investment Data Resource (SIDR) for the Target 120 program, in collaboration with WA Treasury and Curtin University’s Centre for Data Linkage;
- Establishing the WA Health Enterprise Linked Data Warehouse as a consolidated platform for service and operational data requirements, revolutionising traditional data extraction and verification processes (2023).
More broadly, our Data Engineers undertake a wide variety of work, including design and implementation of data pipelines and warehousing solutions, and improving data availability and management through automation, promoting interoperability between systems.
Research Governance Office
This team manages the Research Governance Service workspace through which all ethics and research governance applications are processed, and also conduct site reviews and site-specific monitoring to ensure projects are conducted with integrity.
The Research Governance Office is also the location of Ethics Officers who provide comprehensive, confidential administrative support to the Department of Health Human Research Ethics Committee (HREC).