Connecting the dots: CIHI explains data linkage at Wales conference

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How we can link data to answer our stakeholders’ questions?

Recently, 3 CIHI staff travelled across the Atlantic to Swansea, Wales, for the 2016 International Population Data Linkage Conference this fall. More than 500 people from 22 countries across 6 continents attended the conference.

One of our presenters, Rachel Hemeon, Program Lead, Data Quality at CIHI, said that the conference was a good opportunity to speak to the international community about CIHI’s work on data linkage.

“CIHI can link data to answer our stakeholders’ questions,” said Hemeon. “Each province and territory is unique and we can use data linkage to help inform decision-making. We loop our legal and privacy teams in whenever we do any type of data linkage analysis to ensure that we always maintain the privacy and confidentiality of the people whose data we are linking. CIHI’s corporate standard helps to ensure we have good quality linkages that can be done quickly to meet our stakeholders’ needs.”

Expanding analytical tools 

Linking data relates directly to one of the goals in CIHI’s strategic plan: expand analytical tools to support measurement of health systems.

“Delegates were impressed with the wealth of data that CIHI has,” said Hemeon. “We are unique in that we have access to encrypted health care numbers that enable us to make those crucial linkages between health sectors across Canada. There are many other countries that have to rely on less direct and unreliable sources of linkage information, such as phone numbers, addresses and names from emergency departments and sectors like long-term care and mental health. While we do have issues, they are minor in comparison with some of the challenges we heard about from our international peers.”

A more comprehensive picture of the health systems

CIHI’s ability to link data provides a more comprehensive picture of an individual’s progression through the health system, which is a major factor in understanding and reporting on clinical outcomes. For example, with linked data, we can know whether children and youth hospitalized for mental disorders had a follow-up visit from their family physician — something hospital data alone cannot tell us.

“The conference reinforced that our work on data linkages at CIHI is highly regarded by our peer organizations,” said Hemeon.