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Linking Data from Multiple Sources

Linking data from multiple health services databases can provide valuable insight into population health determinants, patient outcomes and clinical performance. Research projects often leverage data from multiple sources, whether data from paper charts and administrative records at one hospital, or data from multiple databases across the province.

While valuable, researchers planning to ask for datasets to be linked should be aware of the complexity, time commitment, and additional steps required before the data can be linked and made available. We recommend you plan as early as possible, as the additional agreements and steps required will have implications on your research timeline.

‎You may want to link data from two or more databases across PHSA. This requires data from one database to be sent to another for linking to be carried out. Depending on the governance of the database, this may require one data steward to sign a data sharing agreement with the other to outline how the data will be transferred, linked and returned/destroyed. 

While you may not be directly involved in drafting this agreement, it is important to connect with these data custodians early on in the process since they will need to determine how best to fulfill your data access request and what supporting information you will be required to provide. Be aware that some data stewards have other requirements, including privacy impact assessments, which may add to your timeline before the data are received.


If you are an External Researcher (i.e. not Affiliated with PHSA), you may be asked to sign additional agreements outlining that you will comply with applicable laws and PHSA policies pertaining to the data disclosure. PHSA-Affiliated Researchers and PHSA employees are bound to applicable laws and PHSA policies through affiliation agreements, employment/consulting contracts, and the annual renewal of PHSA privacy and confidentiality training.


PHSA, the 5 regional health authorities (HAs) and the Ministry of Health (MoH) signed a General Health Information Sharing Agreement (the "GHISA") that sets out a common template for Information Sharing Situations, such as data linkages. This common template, known as an Information Sharing Plan (ISP), outlines the terms and conditions under which record-level data is exchanged for evaluation, public health surveillance and research purposes.


If you are a PHSA-Affiliated Researcher requesting PHSA data be linked to data from another HA or the MoH, you will need to work with the PHSA data custodian and PHSA Information Access & Privacy Office (IAP Office). You should contact the PHSA data custodian first to initiate the development of the ISP. They will take the lead in working with you and the IAP Office in developing the ISP.


In addition to the ISP, some HAs require a Privacy Impact Assessment or other additional reviews. Information on data access processes and forms required by HAs will be posted on the MoH's Health Authorities webpage as it becomes available. Information on other sources of administrative data is also available on the MoH's Other Administrative Data webpage.   


Data requests from External Researchers for PHSA data to be linked to their HA's data should go through their data custodian and privacy office, who will reach out to PHSA on their behalf.   


If you are requesting data held at PHSA be sent to Population Data BC to be linked, be aware that Population Data BC's timelines will apply once PHSA's data has been released. If an overarching data sharing agreement does not exist between the PHSA steward and Population Data BC, an institutional information sharing agreement may be needed to outline how the data will be transferred, linked and returned/destroyed. Depending on the PHSA data holdings requested, the process may involve PHSA's Information Access & Privacy Office (IAP Office) and/or Legal Department.


For more information on Population Data BC's data holdings, processes and requirements, visit their Services for Researchers webpages.


If you are requesting data held at PHSA be linked with data held by another organization, you will need to work closely with the PHSA data custodian who will be carrying out the linkage to ensure that all legal and privacy requirements are met. If an overarching data sharing agreement does not exist between the PHSA data steward and the other organization, a more robust agreement in may be needed to outline the data disclosure, in addition to a project specific agreement. Depending on the PHSA data holdings requested, the process may involve PHSA's Information Access & Privacy Office (IAP Office) and/or Legal Department.


The same is true if you are requesting data held at PHSA be sent to another organization for linkage, other than HA/MoH data custodians. PHSA's data steward will need to ensure that specific security, confidentiality, privacy, and technical requirements are met.



SOURCE: Linking Data from Multiple Sources ( )
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