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In January 2019, responsibility for population-level surveillance and reporting of non-communicable diseases and their determinants in Victoria moved from the Department to VAHI.

Population health surveillance is the ongoing, systematic collection, assembly, analysis and interpretation of population health data, and the communication of information derived from these data. Information collected about the health status of the Victorian population is used to inform policy development and assist planning efforts to improve health service delivery. This population-level information will allow VAHI to provide a fuller picture of Victoria’s health.

Our work on population health surveillance will be incorporated into our strategic objectives from 2019–20.

Surveying the health of Victorians

The Victorian Population Health Survey provides an annual assessment of the health status of the adult population living in Victoria.

The survey is an accurate, reliable and ongoing source of information about the physical, mental and social health of the Victorian population and is the most comprehensive population health survey conducted in Victoria. The findings from the survey inform policy development and strategic planning across government and the wider community.

The Victorian Population Health Survey also monitors trends over time for key indicators, such as the prevalence of priority chronic diseases (for example, diabetes), lifestyle risk factors (for example, smoking and obesity), mental ill-health (psychological distress, depression and anxiety), health literacy, service use (such as cancer screening), and the social determinants of health (for example, social capital).

In July 2018, the Department released the report of the 2016 Victorian Population Health Survey. The findings from this report have been widely used by the Department, for example, to inform Your health: report of the Chief Health Officer, Victoria, 2016, which provides an overview of the health and wellbeing of Victorians and the determinants of health.

Health indicators from the survey were also included in The State of Victoria’s children report for 2017 and were used to report on progress in relation to selected health outcomes in the Department’s Outcomes Framework.

VAHI has prepared four reports containing the findings from the 2017 Victorian Population Health Survey, which was conducted across Victoria’s 79 municipalities. These reports will be released in 2019–20.

In 2018–19, fieldwork was undertaken for the Victorian Population Health Survey 2018.

Investigating food insecurity

Seven measures of food insecurity were added to the Victorian Population Health Survey in 2014 to enable an in-depth investigation of food insecurity in Victoria.

Food insecurity is said to occur whenever the availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods, or the ability to acquire acceptable food in socially acceptable ways, is limited or uncertain. Food insecurity is an important social determinant of health, an indicator of social equity and a key driver of the obesity epidemic.

Data from the 2014 survey were analysed to prepare a special report, Challenges to health eating: food insecurity in Victoria. VAHI distributed the report to all stakeholders working towards a fairer Victoria to inform policy decisions in September 2019.

Updating the interactive Health Status Atlas

The Health Status Atlas is a website that presents location-based statistical data from the Victorian Population Health Survey. Its interactive map of Victoria is an accessible, visual way to communicate population health data statistics and geographic patterns.

The atlas is valuable for health researchers, epidemiologists, data managers and geographic information system (GIS) experts in state and local government, as well as anyone interested in the health of Victoria. The atlas makes it easy to compare local government areas, allowing policy makers to identify priority areas and produce health snapshots.

During the year, VAHI has been preparing updates to the atlas using data from the 2017 Victorian Population Health Survey. The updated atlas will be released in 2019–20.

Sharing public health information

The Victorian Health Information Surveillance System (VHISS) is an interactive website displaying selected public health indicators. Users can generate tables and graphs of statewide data or data for specific local areas including metropolitan/rural, regions, primary care partnerships and local government areas.

The VHISS website provides accurate and timely data and information about the health status of the Victorian population to inform policy development and assist planning efforts to improve population health.

During the year, VAED for ambulatory care sensitive conditions (potentially-preventable hospitalisations) for 2017–18 were analysed and uploaded to VHISS. Mortality data were analysed to update avoidable mortality and add life expectancy estimates to VHISS.

Comparing the Victorian health system nationally and internationally

The Commonwealth Fund is a Washington-based foundation renowned for their research and promotion of international health system performance. The foundation’s annual International Health Policy Survey of 11 countries, including Australia, looks at the health system through a global lens to identify opportunities for improvement. The survey collects information about people’s experience with the health system, including access and affordability.

From the results of the survey, VAHI produces reports that compare the Victorian health system with other high-income countries, including the US. This year, VAHI prepared a report on 2016 health system performance in Victoria, focusing on adults and with national and international comparisons. A report on 2017 health system performance in Victoria has also been prepared, focused on older adults, also with national and international comparisons. These reports will be released in 2019–20.

The 2019 International Health Policy Survey of Primary Care Practitioners is currently in the field. VAHI has an agreement with the research company to get data from a representative sample of Victorian GPs. The results of the survey will provide insights into primary care performance in Victoria and will allow for international comparisons.

Providing resources to support policy development

During 2018–19, we produced a paper on Association and causation: a guide for policymakers on the science of determining the causes of disease and other health outcomes.

The paper was commissioned to examine concerns that the media, the public and policymakers working with evidence and data often jump to a conclusion of cause and effect when two things are statistically associated. Being statistically associated does not necessarily mean that one thing causes the other. Understanding this distinction is crucial for governments to design sound evidence-based policies for better health.

The guide outlined the information needed and steps to be taken to establish a cause and effect relationship between two variables, using smoking and lung cancer as an example. It has been well received and VAHI plans to develop further resources on other topics.

Page last updated: 13 Nov 2019

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