Open Access Correspondence

Data linkage infrastructure for cross-jurisdictional health-related research in Australia

James H Boyd1*, Anna M Ferrante1, Christine M O’Keefe2, Alfred J Bass3, Sean M Randall1 and James B Semmens1

Author Affiliations

1 Curtin University, Perth, Western Australia

2 CSIRO Mathematics, Informatics and Statistics, Canberra, ACT, Australia

3 Menzies Research Institute, Tasmania, Australia

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BMC Health Services Research 2012, 12:480  doi:10.1186/1472-6963-12-480

Published: 29 December 2012

Abstract

Background

The Centre for Data Linkage (CDL) has been established to enable national and cross-jurisdictional health-related research in Australia. It has been funded through the Population Health Research Network (PHRN), a national initiative established under the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy (NCRIS). This paper describes the development of the processes and methodology required to create cross-jurisdictional research infrastructure and enable aggregation of State and Territory linkages into a single linkage “map”.

Methods

The CDL has implemented a linkage model which incorporates best practice in data linkage and adheres to data integration principles set down by the Australian Government. Working closely with data custodians and State-based data linkage facilities, the CDL has designed and implemented a linkage system to enable research at national or cross-jurisdictional level. A secure operational environment has also been established with strong governance arrangements to maximise privacy and the confidentiality of data.

Results

The development and implementation of a cross-jurisdictional linkage model overcomes a number of challenges associated with the federated nature of health data collections in Australia. The infrastructure expands Australia’s data linkage capability and provides opportunities for population-level research. The CDL linkage model, infrastructure architecture and governance arrangements are presented. The quality and capability of the new infrastructure is demonstrated through the conduct of data linkage for the first PHRN Proof of Concept Collaboration project, where more than 25 million records were successfully linked to a very high quality.

Conclusions

This infrastructure provides researchers and policy-makers with the ability to undertake linkage-based research that extends across jurisdictional boundaries. It represents an advance in Australia’s national data linkage capabilities and sets the scene for stronger government-research collaboration.

Keywords:
Data linkage; Infrastructure; Population; Health; Research