Population Data BC helps take research to the next level

15 July 2010

MSFHR-funded Population Data BC aims to create the world's most comprehensive data source for researchers in the area of human health, well-being and development. In 2009, a series of successes brought them closer to this goal.

Launched in 2007 as one of five MSFHR Technology/Methodology Platforms, Population Data BC's multi-university platform is a pan-provincial population health data service. Information collected through various channels, such as vital statistics registries, provincial health records and even census data, are linked through Population Data BC. Working with organizations responsible for the data, Population Data BC has established a valuable resource for health researchers developing new studies or seeking to incorporate data into their current studies. It also enables researchers to collaborate across disciplines and geographic locations, and offers training on how to use population data.

Last year, new data sharing agreements were struck with the Ministry of Health Services, the BC Vital Statistics Agency and WorkSafeBC — and five more agreements are under negotiation.

Educational opportunities increased with new workshops and training, including a mobile lab. Security was enhanced and underwent a stringent review. A geomatics unit was also established to focus on geospatial data, providing researchers a new way to explore patterns of disease and health outcomes as they relate to geography.

These and other achievements moved Population Data BC towards its longer term goal, according to platform board member Dr. Michael Hayes, Director, Health Education and Research at the University of Victoria.

"Population Data BC represents a new way of doing business in health research in the province with the access it provides to multiple types of existing data, as well as the linking of those data," says Hayes. "BC researchers using the platform have a tremendous competitive advantage."

Hayes says the platform is attracting new researchers to BC and enables BC policy-makers to develop programs such as StrongStart BC, which provides school-based early learning services for adults and their young children — and which was created as a direct result of studies on neighbourhood rates of child vulnerability. "Population Data BC gives the provincial government great value-add, because we can contribute to research that responds to their most pressing questions."