PopData Support for COVID-19 research

Data analysis phase

Researchers are responsible for analyzing the data released to them. The data sets resulting from a request are large, often comprising hundreds of thousands of records spanning multiple files. Data Access Unit staff will provide support related to data files and fields if necessary, but it is expected that Researchers will have the capability to carry out their own analyses.

Researchers that find data analysis requires more resources than anticipated may want to hire a student, or someone else with data analysis experience. Data Access Unit staff may be able to put Researchers in contact with people with relevant experience.

Data format

The amount of data that the Researcher receives and how it's structured depends on the number of data files and fields requested, the number of years requested, and the size of the requested cohort.

The Researcher receives the data as multiple files, not as a database. For example, a request for data from MSP, PharmaCare and Hospital Separations, spanning calendar years 1996 to 2000, would generally result in a separate file for each program area in each year (15 files in total). Each record is allocated a non-meaningful project-specific study identification number to enable identification of records belonging to the same individual across program areas and years.

Data are provided as ASCII flat files, as this format can be imported into a wide variety of software programs for analysis.

In addition to the data, the Researcher receives a data layout and data dictionary for each file. The data layout contains the length, start position, and end position of each field in your requested data file. The data dictionary provides coding information that will assist in interpreting the data.

Using the Secure Research Environment (SRE)

The Secure Research Environment (SRE) is a secure private cloud accessible only via an encrypted Virtual Private Network (VPN) through a firewall and use of a YubiKey® for two-factor authentication. Research Extracts will be housed on the SRE at Population Data BC unless otherwise authorised (see below).

> more information on the features and benefits of the SRE

PLEASE NOTE: Storage of data is as described and approved in the DAR. Please remember that FIPPA not only prohibits the storage of Personal Information outside of Canada, but it also prohibits access, which includes viewing. For example, if your data is on the SRE or a similar server you are prohibited from accessing that server from outside of Canada via VPN or any other method. Although the data remains on the server within Canada, your viewing of the data constitutes access outside of the country.

Authorisation to house research extracts outside the SRE

Researchers who wish to store, access and analyse their data extracts outside the SRE need to ensure this is clearly identified in the Data Access Request (DAR). To request authorisation, Researchers will be required to provide:

  • A written rationale/justification for why they cannot use the SRE
  • Details of the physical location(s) where research data will be used or accessed, including physical security measures in place to protect workstations, hard copy and source media
  • Details of network security measures in place if data will be stored on a network or system to which individuals other than the identified project personnel can have access
  • Details of the security measures taken to protect data residing on a personal computer if data will be stored on or accessed from the hard drive of a PC.

What happens between Data Access Request (DAR) approval and SRE access?

Once the DAR has been approved, the Researcher signs the following documents:

  • Research Agreement(s), including Pledge of Confidentiality and YubiKey® form
  • Population Data BC - Researcher Services Agreement
  • Population Data BC Cost Quote

Data Access Unit staff forward login information to all identified Researchers requiring access to the SRE plus the Principal Investigator. This includes:

  • Username and temporary password for the my.PopData portal
  • Instructions for Privacy training

* Please note, the Principal Investigator (PI) for the research project must complete the online Privacy training before any team members are given access to the SRE, regardless of whether the PI will be accessing the SRE or not.

Researchers, including the Principal Investigator, successfully complete online Privacy training*. Once all Privacy training is complete, a YubiKey® will be sent/ready for pick up and Data Access Unit staff will authorize access to the team’s project specific folder.

Once the approved data have been extracted, the data will be placed on the SRE in the project-specific folder and the research team notified that their data is now available on the SRE.

Following data delivery, the Researcher will receive an invoice for Population Data BC services.

Available software

For a current list of software programs/packages available on the SRE visit: https://my.popdata.bc.ca/html/SRE/software.html

Transfers in and out of the SRE

While researchers are not permitted to download Research Extracts on the SRE to any local drive, downloading research outputs, scripts etc. from the SRE (e.g. for the purpose of incorporation into a paper for publication) is allowed. 

In order to balance ease of use, protection and accountability, PopData has developed a system which facilitates and monitors transfers into and out of the SRE. This process allows PopData to keep an audit trail for transfers, and the explicit action required by the Researcher to minimize accidental releases of data. The log information is reviewed by PopData regularly and upon request by the applicable Data Steward(s) to ensure conformity with the Research Agreement(s).

Uploading data to the SRE

Researchers wishing to upload data to the SRE must request approval to do so from the Data Access Unit. If it is approved, the data will be added to the Researcher's folder on the SRE by PopData.

SRE technical support

For technical issues and support please email sre@popdata.bc.ca. You will receive a response within four hours of submitting the email. Before sending an email please check https://my.popdata.bc.ca/sre/available for server outage and technical issue notices.

SRE technical support hours are 9:00 am to 5:00 pm, Monday to Friday

Data amendments

Researchers who receive data and realise that they need additional data files or fields included from one of the data files will have to submit an amendment. Changes to the cohort definition also require an amendment.

Researchers may request an amendment to their approved project by emailing the requested changes and a rationale for requesting the change (see below) to the Data Access Unit (DAU). Be sure to indicate that you are requesting an amendment to your approved project and include the project number and title. The DAU will forward the amendment to the Data Steward(s) for review and approval.

Please note that any amendments requiring data extraction or involving changes to the study population will incur additional costs and require a new Cost Quote. Amendments to the cohort definition in particular, can be both costly and time-consuming, so it is recommended that Researchers make absolutely certain that their cohort definition is correct before submitting the Data Access Request (DAR). DAU staff will help Researchers to define their cohort definition prior to the submission of the DAR for Data Steward review.

If the amendment does not fall into one of the categories below, please contact the DAU.

Amendment to data extract

Researchers who receive data and realise that they need additional data (i.e., additional data files, additional data fields, and/or additional years of data), will need to submit an Amendment to Data Extract request. There are three types of Amendment to Data Extract requests:

Additional year of data for data already requested (note: a researcher can only request data to the end of the current year) Additional data fields from the file already requested Additional data fields from a file not requested in the original application.

Data preparation errors

If Population Data BC has made an error in preparing data for a research project, the request is placed at the front of the work queue and prepared as quickly as possible.

Researchers need to clearly indicate which type of amendment request they are making, and provide specific details on the additional data requested, e.g. the years, and/or fields, and or files. A detailed rationale for the request is also required.

Amendment to cohort definition

Researchers who receive data and realize that they need to request changes to the cohort definition(s) as originally approved, will need to submit an Amendment to Cohort Definition request.

Researchers need to describe in detail the changes they are requesting to their cohort(s) definition(s). A detailed rationale for the request is also required.

Amendment to extend the data retention date

Researchers are initially permitted access to the data extract provided by Population Data BC for up to three years after Population Data BC provides the first set of data, as long as privacy conditions are met. Researchers who need additional time to analyse their data will need to submit an Amendment to Extend the Data Retention Date request. Researchers also need to provide a Progress Report with the extension request. > download Progress Report template.

Researchers need to provide a rationale for extending the data retention period, and confirm that they have accompanying ethics renewal for the period, if applicable.

Submit all amendment requests via email to the DAU. Data Access Unit staff  will coordinate the review of the amendment request by the Data Steward(s).

Data retention extensions

As outlined in the Research Agreement, Researchers are initially permitted access to the data extract provided by Population Data BC (PopData) for up to three years after the first set of data has been made available, as long as privacy conditions are met.

PopData will provide the Researcher with a data retention expiry date at the time of data delivery. After three years, Researchers may extend the data retention date by requesting an Amendment to Extend the Data Retention Date. See also: Data amendments section above

If the Research Extract was provided on the Secure Research Environment (SRE), access to the SRE will be terminated when the data retention period expires, unless an Amendment to Extend the Data Retention Date has been submitted and approved.