Journal of Medical Internet Research (Feb 2021)

Opening a “Can of Worms” to Explore the Public's Hopes and Fears About Health Care Data Sharing: Qualitative Study

  • Lounsbury, Olivia,
  • Roberts, Lily,
  • Goodman, Jonathan R,
  • Batey, Philippa,
  • Naar, Lenny,
  • Flott, Kelsey M,
  • Lawrence-Jones, Anna,
  • Ghafur, Saira,
  • Darzi, Ara,
  • Neves, Ana Luisa

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 23, no. 2
p. e22744


Read online

BackgroundEvidence suggests that health care data sharing may strengthen care coordination, improve quality and safety, and reduce costs. However, to achieve efficient and meaningful adoption of health care data-sharing initiatives, it is necessary to engage all stakeholders, from health care professionals to patients. Although previous work has assessed health care professionals’ perceptions of data sharing, perspectives of the general public and particularly of seldom heard groups have yet to be fully assessed. ObjectiveThis study aims to explore the views of the public, particularly their hopes and concerns, around health care data sharing. MethodsAn original, immersive public engagement interactive experience was developed—The Can of Worms installation—in which participants were prompted to reflect about data sharing through listening to individual stories around health care data sharing. A multidisciplinary team with expertise in research, public involvement, and human-centered design developed this concept. The installation took place in three separate events between November 2018 and November 2019. A combination of convenience and snowball sampling was used in this study. Participants were asked to fill self-administered feedback cards and to describe their hopes and fears about the meaningful use of data in health care. The transcripts were compiled verbatim and systematically reviewed by four independent reviewers using the thematic analysis method to identify emerging themes. ResultsOur approach exemplifies the potential of using interdisciplinary expertise in research, public involvement, and human-centered design to tell stories, collect perspectives, and spark conversations around complex topics in participatory digital medicine. A total of 352 qualitative feedback cards were collected, each reflecting participants’ hopes and fears for health care data sharing. Thematic analyses identified six themes under hopes: enablement of personal access and ownership, increased interoperability and collaboration, generation of evidence for better and safer care, improved timeliness and efficiency, delivery of more personalized care, and equality. The five main fears identified included inadequate security and exploitation, data inaccuracy, distrust, discrimination and inequality, and less patient-centered care. ConclusionsThis study sheds new light on the main hopes and fears of the public regarding health care data sharing. Importantly, our results highlight novel concerns from the public, particularly in terms of the impact on health disparities, both at international and local levels, and on delivering patient-centered care. Incorporating the knowledge generated and focusing on co-designing solutions to tackle these concerns is critical to engage the public as active contributors and to fully leverage the potential of health care data use.