New initiative to improve health data access for researchers

Doctor at computer

Health researchers will now be able to access data from multiple provincial, territorial and pan-Canadian sources more easily, thanks to the Data Access Support Hub (DASH).

Today, Health Data Research Network Canada (HDRN Canada) launched DASH, a one-stop shop for researchers to request access to data from more than one jurisdiction. This initiative is made possible through the Strategy for Patient-Oriented Research (SPOR) which is a collection of funding partnerships between the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), provinces and territories, philanthropic organizations, academic institutions, and health charities.

Data are crucial for research that improves the health and wellbeing of all Canadians. Data provide insights into health trends and patterns over time and help inform policies for tackling health challenges, such as the opioid crisis or chronic illnesses. Comparing data across multiple jurisdictions allows researchers and policymakers to understand the effectiveness of different policies or initiatives and find evidence-based solutions. 

However, obtaining this data is not always easy. Currently, a researcher must navigate separate data access processes and requirements across multiple jurisdictions, with varying levels of information that is accessible publicly. The timelines for accessing data and costs incurred are also not currently standardized. 

By offering a single access point for multi-jurisdictional data requests, DASH streamlines the way researchers request data and provides a clear point of contact for ongoing assistance throughout the process. 

"DASH makes it easier for researchers to get the data they need," said Dr. Kim McGrail, Scientific Director. "For the first time, they will be able to request data from multiple provincial, territorial and pan-Canadian sources all through one centralized process. We are proud to work with our partner data centres across the country to support research that improves health outcomes for all Canadians."

Emily Marshall and her co-investigators are leading a study to compare the effectiveness of centralized wait lists in Ontario, Quebec and Nova Scotia in connecting patients with a primary health care provider. This is one of the first research teams in Canada to use DASH as part of their project.

"We are delighted to participate as a pilot project for DASH," said Marshall. “Our study aims to find out which factors impact the effectiveness of provincially-administered waitlists in linking patients with a primary health care provider. We look forward to working with the DASH team to advance our study."

At launch, DASH includes information about hundreds of Canadian datasets, and over 100 algorithms which can be used to transform data with small differences from multiple provinces and territories into comparable data. And this is just a start. With generous funding from CIHR and provincial and territorial governments, HDRN Canada plans to add more datasets and algorithms in the months and years ahead.

"At its core, SPOR is about applying evidence-based solutions to health care to improve outcomes for patients and the key to evidence-based decision making is data," said Dr. Michael Strong, President, Canadian Institutes of Health Research. "We are very pleased to invest in projects like this one, which benefits Canadians by better connecting data and researchers.”

Learn more at the DASH website