End of free access to database will shrink UK generated research, says expertBMJ 2011; 342 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.c7455 (Published 10 January 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;342:c7455
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Electronic health databases are getting more and more popular as research material in medical studies. The GPRD is undoubtedly one of the most influential research databases around the world. Analyzing studies indexed in the Science Citation Index (SCI) and Social Science Citation Index (SSCI) that used GPRD as main data sources showed its great academic influence in terms of publications. During a 15-year-period (1995 to 2009), 749 studies were published with 'General Practice Research Database' as their topics. By the end of 2009, the GPRD had attracted 1251 authors from 22 countries who had published in 193 journals across 58 study fields ranging from 'pharmacology and pharmacy' (26.4%) followed by 'general and internal medicine'(14.2%) and 'public health' to 'health care sciences', 'health policy & services' and 'economics'. The number of GPRD studies increased rapidly and can be expected to double by 2015.
However, lowering access barriers of research database would further accelerate academic production. Taiwan's national health insurance database (NHIRD) is one of the large-scale administrative health care databases in the world. The NHIRD is composed of comprehensive de-identified and encrypted medical claims made by 23 million people (i.e. 99% of Taiwan's population). Since the public release in 2000, the NHIRD is publicly available to researchers in Taiwan and their collaborators. Any citizen of Taiwan who fulfills the requirements of conducting research projects is eligible to apply for the NHIRD. Moreover, only a small amount of data processing fee is charged by project, either NTD$ 500 (GBP 11) per compact disc or NTD$ 200 (GBP 4.4) per gigabyte data. No extra premium is required for any subsequent data use, hence the concern about grant support is less pressing for NHIRD studies.
Similar to GPRD, the NHIRD has exerted great academic influence upon researchers in Taiwan. In a systematic analysis, we found 383 studies published in a 10-year period (2000 to 2009) that used NHIRD as research material . These NHIRD studies were conducted by 667 authors and were published in 210 journals across 60 study fields ranging from 'health care sciences & services' (14.4%) followed by 'public health' (13.3%) and 'psychiatry' to interdisciplinary research in 'economics' and 'computer science'. In the decade analyzed, the number of articles doubled every two years, a rapid growth rate two times faster than that of GPRD studies. Not only general health but also clinical disciplines such as cardiovascular, mental, or woman and child health benefited from NHIRD.
The analyses of GPRD and NHIRD studies suggest that a public health database will significantly promote scientific production in many ways, and the more so, the lower the barriers for use are. Low or free of cost is just one of the fundamental means to increase access to the database. To promote health care, data holders at a national level should consider how to minimize budget and technical constraints to reuse data for research purpose.
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2. Chen YC, Yeh HY, Wu JC, Haschler I, Chen TJ, Wetter T. Taiwan's national health insurance research database: administrative health care database as study object in bibliometrics.
Scientometrics 2011;86(2):365-80. DOI 10.1007/s11192-010-0289-2
Competing interests: No competing interests