Communicating With Patients About Software for Enhancing Privacy in Secondary Database Research Involving Record Linkage: Delphi Study. Academic Article uri icon


  • BACKGROUND: There is substantial prior research on the perspectives of patients on the use of health information for research. Numerous communication barriers challenge transparency between researchers and data participants in secondary database research (eg, waiver of informed consent and knowledge gaps). Individual concerns and misconceptions challenge the trust in researchers among patients despite efforts to protect data. Technical software used to protect research data can further complicate the public's understanding of research. For example, MiNDFIRL (Minimum Necessary Disclosure For Interactive Record Linkage) is a prototype software that can be used to enhance the confidentiality of data sets by restricting disclosures of identifying information during the record linkage process. However, software, such as MiNDFIRL, which is used to protect data, must overcome the aforementioned communication barriers. One proposed solution is the creation of an interactive web-based frequently asked question (FAQ) template that can be adapted and used to communicate research issues to data subjects. OBJECTIVE: This study aims to improve communication with patients and transparency about how complex software, such as MiNDFIRL, is used to enhance privacy in secondary database studies to maintain the public's trust in researchers. METHODS: A Delphi technique with 3 rounds of the survey was used to develop the FAQ document to communicate privacy issues related to a generic secondary database study using the MiNDFIRL software. The Delphi panel consisted of 38 patients with chronic health conditions. We revised the FAQ between Delphi rounds and provided participants with a summary of the feedback. We adopted a conservative consensus threshold of less than 10% negative feedback per FAQ section. RESULTS: We developed a consensus language for 21 of the 24 FAQ sections. Participant feedback demonstrated preference differences (eg, brevity vs comprehensiveness). We adapted the final FAQ into an interactive web-based format that 94% (31/33) of the participants found helpful or very helpful. The template FAQ and MiNDFIRL source code are available on GitHub. The results indicate the following patient communication considerations: patients have diverse and varied preferences; the tone is important but challenging; and patients want information on security, identifiers, and final disposition of information. CONCLUSIONS: The findings of this study provide insights into what research-related information is useful to patients and how researchers can communicate such information. These findings align with the current understanding of health literacy and its challenges. Communication is essential to transparency and ethical data use, yet it is exceedingly challenging. Developing FAQ template language to accompany a complex software may enable researchers to provide greater transparency when informed consent is not possible.

published proceedings

  • J Med Internet Res

altmetric score

  • 3.45

author list (cited authors)

  • Schmit, C., Ajayi, K. V., Ferdinand, A. O., Giannouchos, T., Ilangovan, G., Nowell, W. B., & Kum, H.

citation count

  • 4

complete list of authors

  • Schmit, Cason||Ajayi, Kobi V||Ferdinand, Alva O||Giannouchos, Theodoros||Ilangovan, Gurudev||Nowell, W Benjamin||Kum, Hye-Chung

publication date

  • December 2020