Table 4

Strengths and limitations of the databases as elucidated by our example projects

Database nameStrengths encounteredLimitations/challenges/cautions encountered
National Ambulatory Care Reporting System (NACRS)
  • Captures emergency room visit data in Alberta

  • Emergency room data are abstracted in a standardised fashion by trained data extractors

  • Includes up to 10 diagnostic fields

  • National database allows for interprovincial comparisons

  • Quality control by the Canadian Institute for Health Information

  • Not mandatory for all outpatient visit data to be submitted in Alberta, therefore outpatient visits may be missed

  • Unstandardised data capture and coding for outpatient visits may lead to missing data and makes analysis and interpretation difficult

  • No reconciliation with Physician claims database

Discharge Abstract Database
  • Captures acute care facility discharges in the province

  • National database allows for interprovincial comparisons

  • Quality control by the Canadian Institute for Health Information

  • None identified

Diagnostic imaging
  • Contains information about diagnostic imaging (eg, CT and MRI)

  • None identified

Alberta Health Services Labs
  • Access to lab data collected across the province is available for labs ordered and paid for by Provincial Health Authority. Labs ordered and paid for by other parties are removed

  • Use of 3 different systems across the province making province-wide analysis difficult

  • Labs taken using beside instruments may not flow into administrative databases

  • Heavy use of free text fields making analysis difficult without proper cleaning and data analytic skills

Physician claims
  • Captures data on emergency, community and in-hospital physician services provided across the province

  • Captures all services provided by fee-for-service physicians and some services provided by physicians on alternative payment plans (ie, shadow billed claims)

  • Does not capture all visits as shadow bill submissions by alternative payment plan physicians to Provincial Health Authority varies by clinic

  • No reconciliation with the NACRS database makes the identifcation of duplicate data challenging

  • Only up to three diagnostic codes are captured, with only one being mandatory for outpatient visits, therefore not all conditions treated within a visit may be captured

  • Unspecific billing codes used (eg, general follow-up)

  • Variation in coding practice among physicians

Pharmaceutical Information Network
  • Captures prescription dispenses from community pharmacies

  • Includes information such as drug dispense date and drug information details (eg, drug identification number).

  • Does not capture in-hospital medication dispenses or whether medication was taken by the patient

  • Cannot make conclusions about physicians prescribing patterns as unfilled prescriptions are not captured

Sunrise Clinical Manager
  • Rich source of information for clinical bedside care

  • Provincial Health Authorities warn that there is variation in use and therefore this data source must be used with caution.13

  • Trauma room may not be captured

  • Not used across the province

  • Heavy use of free text fields requiring advanced and resource-intensive analytical skills

  • Contains both tasks that were performed and tasks that were ordered but not performed (eg, medications)

eClinician electronic medical record
  • Rich source of information for clinical bedside care

  • Variation in coding behaviours across clinics

  • Unclear dataflow and mapping from bedside entry to extracted databases

  • Incomplete data capture in some fields. May reflect variation in use across clinics

  • Multiple fields capture similar information (eg, problem list vs encounter table)

  • Not used across the province