Canadian Provincial Administrative Health Data for Research: It’s Better in Alberta
February 13, 2019

Canadian Provincial Administrative Health Data for Research: It’s Better in Alberta

Canada contains a wealth of administrative health data due to its universal healthcare system. Since healthcare in Canada is governed at the provincial level, the administrative health data available, and access to the data vary greatly between provinces. Compared with other provinces, Alberta has superior data for industry-sponsored research. Alberta’s administrative data holdings cover over 4.2 million residents and include pharmacy-level data, such that all prescription drugs dispensed in the province are captured, in addition to province-wide laboratory data.

The increased use of real-world data in health research, including health technology assessment, provides evidence that there is a growing interest in utilizing administrative health data in Canada for research studies. Compared with the rest of the world, Canada’s universal, publicly-funded healthcare system provides a unique opportunity for researchers to capitalize on the high-quality administrative health data that is captured across the nation. Importantly, healthcare in Canada is governed at the provincial level, with each province governing the available data for research purposes independently. As such, available data holdings, data elements, and date ranges of captured data vary across provinces. In terms of data availability and data access requirements, the aim of this white paper is to demonstrate why Alberta health data remains superior for RWE research in Canada. Alberta’s comprehensive coverage and straightforward access to data for Alberta-based, community researchers, such as Medlior, provides extensive opportunities to inform decision-making with patient-oriented research. Differences in the methods for capturing data within each province also create inherent difficulty when attempting to pool data between provinces for analysis. Due to these variations across provinces, “Canadian data” for health research purposes typically does not exist. Thus, we must consider Canada similar to Europe, with each province being its own “country” for health data. To provide more thorough information regarding these differences Medlior recently investigated the administrative health datasets available across Canadian provinces. A summary is presented in Table 1. The following discussion will highlight the benefits and drawbacks of using health data from each province for RWE research, again, demonstrating why Alberta has superior data.

Based on differences in data availability and access across Canada, Medlior firmly believes that Alberta data is the best for research. Alberta is the fourth largest province in Canada, and provides data on over 4.2 million residents, with comprehensive, province-wide laboratory data and pharmacy-level data for all prescription drugs dispensed. Importantly, individualized de-identified data is directly released to researchers based in Alberta, such as Medlior. Therefore, the data processes are more timely and more efficient, with Medlior performing the analysis, rather than the data owners, who may have capacity issues and thus, longer wait times for results. Lastly, while results must circle back into the public domain (as per the Health Information Act in Alberta), the researcher is responsible for the dissemination of results, with the approval of Alberta Health. Thus, Alberta’s administrative health data provides rich longitudinal data that provides an expansive opportunity for research to inform and improve patient care.

Read more in our white paper here.