DLS offers a comprehensive range of data linkage services to support researchers and other data users.

DLS Linkage Options

Through governance agreements with NHS Tayside and NHS Fife, HIC hosts a range of linkable routinely-collected administrative health datasets which can be used to identify and describe study cohorts to answer research questions.

For example a study question may be “Is coeliac disease associated with increased cardiovascular disease?” we can identify a cohort of patients with the disease using test results within the NHS Tayside Laboratory dataset. A further link to the Prescribing and Hospitalisation datasets provides information about events and treatments of cardiovascular conditions of this group. 

Linking HIC-hosted data

HIC hosts and updates linkable health data for the whole population of Tayside & Fife, Scotland – 800,000 or 20% of  the Scottish population, covering:

  • Community-dispensed prescribing.
  • Hospital stays, diagnoses and interventions.
  • Lab tests.
  • Deaths.
  • Accurate linkage is enabled using the NHS unique individual identifier, the Community Health Index number (CHI).
  • HIC maintains up-to-date prescribing and hospitalisation data, through regular updates and data feeds from suppliers.
  • Extensive longitudinal data collection history - with 15+ years history on some datasets.
  • Linkable into local specialist clinical data for detailed measures and events.

Linking to your research dataset

  • Data specifically collected from consented subjects recruited for studies can be enhanced by linkage to routinely collected data, e.g. their prescribing history, other hospital events or events in other sectors such as education.
  • Collecting study data is labour-intensive so, for some study-related events e.g. lab test results, assembling study data from routinely-collected NHS data records will reduce project costs.
  • Follow-up of study participants for health outcomes and end points, e.g. hospital events or death, is easier and less expensive to use existing electronic health records than attempting re-contact.

Linking to external (NHS or non-NHS) data

With appropriate approvals from Data Controllers, our team can help access new datasets, adding missing identifiers with bespoke look-up tools if required, to enable linkage and facilitate new areas of research. This can be for project-specific use or hosting a copy of the new dataset, to allow future research to proceed more quickly.

HIC works closely with experts in health informatics and research methodology who can advise data users on how to make the best use of the data also providing expertise on how to safely make their data available for research, for example through the separation of dataset indexing (adding an anonymised identifier) and linking activities.

  • If required, each use of data from new datasets will only happen in consultation with the data owners.
  • For ongoing incremental updates of datasets, Service Level Agreements (SLAs) are negotiated with data providers which clarify mutual arrangements and agreements.

To assist HIC in providing effective support for the dataset the following information is helpful:

  • A description of the contents of the dataset, purpose for which it was collected and typical uses.
  • Any information about the data origins, when and how it was collected, processing and checking processes already undertaken.
  • Names and versions of any coding systems used (e.g. ICD, READ or OPCS).
  • A copy of any lookup tables used.
  • Where possible, a description of the quality and completeness of the dataset, though HIC can also look at this.