GP dataset a MAGNET for researchers

Monash University and Inner East Melbourne Medicare Local (IEMML) will tomorrow launch the Melbourne East MonAsh GeNeral PracticE DaTabase (MAGNET) research platform, a database of clinical and practice information that will enable researchers to follow changes in general practice and policy over time.

The dataset has been created from information extracted from GP practice management software, including clinical data, patient demographics, the nature of the practice and billing information from Medicare.

The scientific director of MAGNET, Danielle Mazza, who is head of the Department of General Practice at Monash University, said the aim of the program was to establish a database of information emerging from general practice for research and evaluation purposes.

“One of the problems with conducting general practice research in Australia has been the trouble that we have as researchers in accessing data, because GPs operate in a small business environment,” Professor Mazza said. “Having a large dataset such as this one gives us enormous capacity to look into research questions that address policy and practice.”

The MAGNET dataset is based on practices that use Medical Director or Best Practice, and is extracted using the Pen Clinical Audit Tool (CAT), she said. GPs involved in the project have been using the tool for some years in ongoing work with IEMML – and its previous incarnation as a Division of General Practice – to improve data quality.

“[IEMML has] assisted the practices to evaluate themselves and to undertake quality improvement and reflection over the data they have been collecting,” Professor Mazza said. “The MAGNET dataset is based on that material. It's actually one of the largest datasets of its nature in Australia. There are other Medicare Locals or Divisions previously that have done similar things but not to the same extent as the MAGNET initiative.”

Professor Mazza said there were several differences between the MAGNET project and others like the long-running BEACH study conducted by the University of Sydney.

“The BEACH dataset is a great one, but the way it operates, it has 1000 GPs around the country and they ask you to enter data about consecutive patients that you are seeing. It gives a snapshot of what GPs are doing, but it is isolated to the self-report of the GP at the time of the consultation.

“Whereas this dataset has clinical information that the GP is entering into their medical software, but it also has information about the practice where that patient is being seen. For example, information about the GPs, the nature of the practice, if there are practice nurses, the socio-demographic area they are practicing in, and we also have billing data about use of Medicare.

“We are getting a much more comprehensive picture, because it's combining clinical data with the practice characteristics and the demographics and the interaction with Medicare.”

She said one of the most valuable aspects of the dataset was that it created the ability for researchers to evaluate changes in clinical practice and in public health policy over time.

“The data that is being recorded is from the same cohort of practices over time. So unlike BEACH, which is a national sample and there are different doctors and different patients and gives you an overall view, this data is a cohort of practices that are followed over time.

“It also gives you the capacity to utilise MAGNET if you wanted to do intervention studies. If you wanted to put in an intervention and then evaluate it over time, you can do that. If you want to evaluate the outcomes of policy change, for example, then you can also watch how that develops over time in that same cohort.”

The MAGNET research platform will be officially launched as part of the university's Department of General Practice Research Showcase Day, being held at the RACV Club on Bourke St tomorrow.

In addition to the MAGNET launch, Monash will be showcasing the different research that the Department of General Practice undertakes. The department has a focus on preventive care, women's health, children's health, cancer and chronic disease management.

The department will also explain the protocols it has developed to allow researchers from other organisations – general practice researchers in particular – to access the MAGNET data.

“It involves making contact and discussing the proposal with one of the MAGNET team members and submitting an expression of interest and getting some feedback,” Professor Mazza said. “We have to make sure there's no cross-over or duplication between applications for the data that is requested, and we have to determine that the researcher that is applying to utilise the data understands the privacy and security issues around the data and that privacy and security is not compromised.”

Posted in Australian eHealth

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