Background: In the current information age, the use of data has become essential for decision making in public health at the local, national, and global level. Despite a global commitment to the use and sharing of public health data, this can be challenging in reality. No systematic framework or global operational guidelines have been created for data sharing in public health. Barriers at different levels have limited data sharing but have only been anecdotally discussed or in the context of specific case studies. Incomplete systematic evidence on the scope and variety of these barriers has limited opportunities to maximize the value and use of public health data for science and policy.
Methods: We conducted a systematic literature review of potential barriers to public health data sharing. Documents that described barriers to sharing of routinely collected public health data were eligible for inclusion and reviewed independently by a team of experts. We grouped identified barriers in a taxonomy for a focused international dialogue on solutions.
Results: Twenty potential barriers were identified and classified in six categories: technical, motivational, economic, political, legal and ethical. The first three categories are deeply rooted in well-known challenges of health information systems for which structural solutions have yet to be found; the last three have solutions that lie in an international dialogue aimed at generating consensus on policies and instruments for data sharing.
Conclusions: The simultaneous effect of multiple interacting barriers ranging from technical to intangible issues has greatly complicated advances in public health data sharing. A systematic framework of barriers to data sharing in public health will be essential to accelerate the use of valuable information for the global good.