Patients' and Members of the Public's Wishes Regarding Transparency in the Context of Secondary Use of Health Data: Scoping Review

J Med Internet Res. 2023 Apr 13:25:e45002. doi: 10.2196/45002.


Background: Secondary use of health data has reached unequaled potential to improve health systems governance, knowledge, and clinical care. Transparency regarding this secondary use is frequently cited as necessary to address deficits in trust and conditional support and to increase patient awareness.

Objective: We aimed to review the current published literature to identify different stakeholders' perspectives and recommendations on what information patients and members of the public want to learn about the secondary use of health data for research purposes and how and in which situations.

Methods: Using PRISMA-ScR (Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses extension for Scoping Reviews) guidelines, we conducted a scoping review using Medline, CINAHL, PsycINFO, Scopus, Cochrane Library, and PubMed databases to locate a broad range of studies published in English or French until November 2022. We included articles reporting a stakeholder's perspective or recommendations of what information patients and members of the public want to learn about the secondary use of health data for research purposes and how or in which situations. Data were collected and analyzed with an iterative thematic approach using NVivo.

Results: Overall, 178 articles were included in this scoping review. The type of information can be divided into generic and specific content. Generic content includes information on governance and regulatory frameworks, technical aspects, and scientific aims. Specific content includes updates on the use of one's data, return of results from individual tests, information on global results, information on data sharing, and how to access one's data. Recommendations on how to communicate the information focused on frequency, use of various supports, formats, and wording. Methods for communication generally favored broad approaches such as nationwide publicity campaigns, mainstream and social media for generic content, and mixed approaches for specific content including websites, patient portals, and face-to-face encounters. Content should be tailored to the individual as much as possible with regard to length, avoidance of technical terms, cultural competence, and level of detail. Finally, the review outlined 4 major situations where communication was deemed necessary: before a new use of data, when new test results became available, when global research results were released, and in the advent of a breach in confidentiality.

Conclusions: This review highlights how different types of information and approaches to communication efforts may serve as the basis for achieving greater transparency. Governing bodies could use the results: to elaborate or evaluate strategies to educate on the potential benefits; to provide some knowledge and control over data use as a form of reciprocity; and as a condition to engage citizens and build and maintain trust. Future work is needed to assess which strategies achieve the greatest outreach while striking a balance between meeting information needs and use of resources.

Keywords: health data; information; learning health systems; means of communication; patients; public; secondary use; transparency.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Communication
  • Forecasting
  • Health Records, Personal*
  • Humans
  • Learning
  • Patient Participation*
  • Patients
  • Trust