Using deterministic record linkage to link ambulance and emergency department data: is it possible without patient identifiers? A case study from the UK

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Sophie Jane Clark Mary Halter Alison Porter Holly Christina Smith Martin Brand Rachael Fothergill Jaqualine Lindridge Martin McTigue Helen Snooks
Published online: Aug 5, 2019


Introduction
Routine linkage of emergency ambulance records with those from the emergency department is uncommon in the UK. Our study, known as the Pre-Hospital Emergency Department Data Linking Project (PHED Data), aimed to link records of all patients conveyed by a single emergency ambulance service to thirteen emergency departments in the UK from 2012-2016.


Objectives
We aimed to examine the feasibility and resource requirements of collecting de-identified emergency department patient record data and, using a deterministic matching algorithm, linking it to ambulance service data.


Methods
We used a learning log to record contacts and activities undertaken by the research team to achieve data linkage. We also conducted semi-structured interviews with information management/governance staff involved in the process.


Results
We found that five steps were required for successful data linkage for each hospital trust. The total time taken to achieve linkage was a mean of 65 weeks. A total of 958,057 emergency department records were obtained and, of these, 81% were linked to a corresponding ambulance record. The match rate varied between hospital trusts (50%-94%). Staff expressed strong enthusiasm for data linkage. Barriers to successful linkage were mainly due to inconsistencies between and within acute trusts in the recording of two ambulance event identifiers (CAD and call sign). Further data cleaning was required on emergency department fields before full analysis could be conducted. Ensuring the data was not re-identifiable limited validation of the matching method.


Conclusion
We conclude that deterministic record linkage based on the combination of two event identifiers (CAD and call sign) is possible. There is an appetite for data linkage in healthcare organisations but it is a slow process. Developments in standardising the recording of emergency department data are likely to improve the quality of the resultant linked dataset. This would further increase its value for providing evidence to support improvements in health care delivery.


Abstract

Introduction
Routine linkage of emergency ambulance records with those from the emergency department is uncommon in the UK. Our study, known as the Pre-Hospital Emergency Department Data Linking Project (PHED Data), aimed to link records of all patients conveyed by a single emergency ambulance service to thirteen emergency departments in the UK from 2012-2016.


Objectives
We aimed to examine the feasibility and resource requirements of collecting de-identified emergency department patient record data and, using a deterministic matching algorithm, linking it to ambulance service data.


Methods
We used a learning log to record contacts and activities undertaken by the research team to achieve data linkage. We also conducted semi-structured interviews with information management/governance staff involved in the process.


Results
We found that five steps were required for successful data linkage for each hospital trust. The total time taken to achieve linkage was a mean of 65 weeks. A total of 958,057 emergency department records were obtained and, of these, 81% were linked to a corresponding ambulance record. The match rate varied between hospital trusts (50%-94%). Staff expressed strong enthusiasm for data linkage. Barriers to successful linkage were mainly due to inconsistencies between and within acute trusts in the recording of two ambulance event identifiers (CAD and call sign). Further data cleaning was required on emergency department fields before full analysis could be conducted. Ensuring the data was not re-identifiable limited validation of the matching method.


Conclusion
We conclude that deterministic record linkage based on the combination of two event identifiers (CAD and call sign) is possible. There is an appetite for data linkage in healthcare organisations but it is a slow process. Developments in standardising the recording of emergency department data are likely to improve the quality of the resultant linked dataset. This would further increase its value for providing evidence to support improvements in health care delivery.

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