BACKGROUND: Health decision-making requires evidence from high-quality data. As one example, the Discharge Abstract Database (DAD) compiles data from the majority of Canadian hospitals to form one of the most comprehensive and highly regarded administrative databases available for health research, internationally. However, despite the success of this and other administrative health data resources, little is known about their history or the factors that have led to their success. The purpose of this paper is to provide an historical overview of administrative data for health research in Canada to contribute to the institutional memory of this field.
METHODS: We conducted a qualitative content analysis of approximately 20 key sources to construct an historical narrative of administrative health data in Canada. Specifically, we searched for content related to key events, individuals, challenges, and successes in this field over time.
RESULTS AND DISCUSSION: In Canada, administrative data for health research has developed in tangent with provincial research centres. Interestingly, the lessons learned from this history align with the original recommendations of the 1964 Royal Commission on Health Services: (1) standardization, and (2) centralization of data resources, that is (3) facilitated through governmental financial support.
CONCLUSIONS: The overview history provided here illustrates the need for longstanding partnerships between government and academia, for classification and standardization are time-consuming and ever-evolving processes. This paper will be of interest to those who work with administrative health data, and also for countries that are looking to build or improve upon their use of administrative health data for decision-making.
At the time of writing KL was supported by a University of Calgary Achievers in Medical Sciences graduate recruitment scholarship and is currently an Alberta Innovates – Health Solutions graduate trainee. TTS is supported by an MSI Foundation New Investigator Grant and a University of Calgary Seed Grant. HQ is supported by Alberta Innovates — Health Solutions.