Letters Reduced access to database

A publicly available database accelerates academic production

BMJ 2011; 342 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.d637 (Published 01 February 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;342:d637
  1. Yu-Chun Chen, doctoral researcher1,
  2. Jau-Ching Wu, physician2,
  3. Tzeng-Ji Chen, director3,
  4. Thomas Wetter, professor1
  1. 1Section of Medical Informatics, Institute of Medical Biometry and Informatics, University of Heidelberg, D-69120 Heidelberg, Germany
  2. 2Department of Neurosurgery, Neurological Institute, Taipei Veterans General Hospital, Taipei 112, Taiwan
  3. 3Section of Community Medicine, Department of Family Medicine, Taipei Veterans General Hospital
  1. yu-chun.chen{at}stud.uni-heidelberg.de

Electronic health databases are popular as research materials in medical studies.1 Our analysis of publications that used the general practice research database (GPRD) as their main data source found that from 1995 to 2009, GPRD had attracted 1251 authors from 22 countries. In total, 749 studies were published in 193 journals, covering 58 study fields—from pharmacology and pharmacy (26.4%), general and internal medicine, to economics. The number of GPRD studies is increasing rapidly and is expected to double by 2015.

Taiwan’s national health insurance research database (NHIRD), composed of de-identified medical claims from 99% of Taiwan’s 23 million people, is available to any researcher in Taiwan.2 A small data processing fee is charged—TWD500 (£11; €12.6; $17) per compact disc or TWD200 per gigabyte of data. Like GPRD, NHIRD also has great academic influence. In a 10 year analysis, we found 383 NHIRD studies conducted by 667 authors, published in 210 journals, covering 60 study fields—from healthcare sciences (14.4%), to economics, and computer science.3 Not only clinical but also general health disciplines benefited from NHIRD. The number of articles doubled every two years—a growth rate two times greater than that for GPRD studies.

These analyses suggest that public health databases promote scientific research, and even more so when the barriers for use are low. To promote healthcare, data holders at a national level should consider minimising financial and technical constraints on the reuse of data for research purposes.


Cite this as: BMJ 2011;342:d637


  • Competing interests: None declared.


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