Administrative health data are a vital resource for researchers seeking to study the provision of healthcare. How healthcare is delivered, the quality of care provided, and the areas of care needing improvement, are essential pieces of information if healthcare is to be delivered to the highest standards. Why then is it still so challenging for some researchers to gain access to the data?

In Canada, there have been several reports that researchers  face long wait times when they try to access administrative health data, and that these wait times are much longer in some provinces than in others. But why this is the case is not well understood because there has been limited research on this topic.

In order to shed light on the issues surrounding data access for research, a new study led by Cynthia Kendell at Dalhousie University, will set out to identify the factors that affect access to administrative health data for research in Canada.

Administrative health data are routinely collected during the delivery of healthcare. As the name suggests, these data are mainly used to oversee the day-to-day activities within healthcare. For example, assigning the right equipment, personnel, and space for patient care, or to reimburse doctors for their services.

However, these data are also commonly used for research. This is because they are collected from large numbers of people over many years, and contain valuable and detailed information about each patient, their health, and the care they received. 

Dr. Robin Urquhart, Associate Professor, Department of Community Health and Epidemiology at Dalhousie University stresses the importance of reducing the barriers to such data for research,

"Administrative health data help us understand the care we deliver to patients, and what happens as a result of this care. Therefore, these data are powerful tools to help us improve the delivery of health care and patient outcomes. This study will uncover key barriers in the Canadian context that we can address to make sure these data are more readily accessible to researchers for health system improvement."

Through this study, the research team will identify the barriers and enablers to accessing administrative health data for research by:

  • describing the data access policies and processes that are in place in three provinces,
  • conducting interviews with researchers who work with administrative health data to find out about their experiences accessing data,
  • conducting interviews with people who are involved in regulating and overseeing access to these data to get their thoughts on the factors affecting data access.

 

It is hoped that the findings of this study will help to support efforts to improve data access in Canada and in other countries where barriers to data access exist.

 

For more details on this study visit Factors Affecting Access to Administrative Health Data for Research in Canada: A Study Protocol

 

Cynthia Kendell

Cynthia Kendell, Dalhousie University