Tully MP, Bernsten C, Vass CM, Aitken M. Public preferences regarding data linkage for research: a discrete choice experiment comparing Scotland and Sweden. BMC Med Inform Decis. 2020 Jun 16;20(109).

BACKGROUND: There are increasing examples of linking data on healthcare resource use and patient outcomes from different sectors of health and social care systems. Linked data are generally anonymised, meaning in most jurisdictions there are no legal restrictions to their use in research conducted by public or private organisations. Secondary use of anonymised linked data is contentious in some jurisdictions but other jurisdictions are known for their use of linked data. The publics’ perceptions of the acceptability of using linked data is likely to depend on a number of factors. This study aimed to quantify the preferences of the public to understand the factors that affected views about types of linked data and its use in two jurisdictions.

METHOD: An online discrete choice experiment (DCE) previously conducted in Scotland was adapted and replicated in Sweden. The DCE was designed, comprising five attributes, to elicit the preferences from a representative sample of the public in both jurisdictions. The five attributes (number of levels) were: type of researcher using linked data (four); type of data being linked (four); purpose of the research (three); use of profit from using linked data (four); who oversees the research (four). Each DCE contained 6 choice-sets asking respondents to select their preferred option from two scenarios or state neither were acceptable. Background questions included socio-demographics. DCE data were analysed using conditional and heteroskedastic conditional logit models to create forecasts of acceptability.

RESULTS: The study sample comprised members of the public living in Scotland (n = 1004) and Sweden (n = 974). All five attributes were important in driving respondents’ choices. Swedish and Scottish preferences were mostly homogenous with the exception of ‘who oversees the research using linked data’, which had relatively less impact on the choices observed from Scotland. For a defined ‘typical’ linked data scenario, the probability (on average) of acceptance was 85.7% in Sweden and 82.4% in Scotland.

CONCLUSION: This study suggests that the public living in Scotland and Sweden are open to using anonymised linked data in certain scenarios for research purposes but some caution is advisable if the anonymised linked data joins health to non-health data.

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