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Working with ICES data

ICES authority to collect and use data

ICES is designated a prescribed entity under Ontario's Personal Health Information Privacy Act (PHIPA) and the Coroners Act. This means that health information custodians, like physicians, hospitals or long-term care homes, as well as the Chief Coroner of Ontario, are permitted to disclose personally identifiable information (PII) to ICES without individual consent. Information provided under PHIPA is used for analysis in relation to evaluation, planning and/or monitoring of the health system. Information provided under the Coroners Act informs data analysis related to the health or safety of the public. ICES also may use PII for approved research projects. Data custodians outside the health sector may also disclose PII to ICES for specific uses under other legislation of Ontario or Canada.

A data sharing agreement (DSA) with each data custodian is required to govern the privacy and security of the information at ICES. Most of the data related to core health services are governed under a DSA between ICES and the Ministry of Health. ICES’ policies, practices and procedures for its data handling practices are reviewed and approved every three years by the Office of the Information Privacy Commissioner/Ontario (IPC).

Coded ICES Data

Most data collected by ICES initially include direct personal identifiers, such as health card number, full name, date of birth, gender and postal code. These identifiers are necessary for the accurate assignment of a unique, confidential ICES Key Number (IKN), or "code." Each person in Ontario is assigned their own IKN, which is how ICES can link information across data sets.

The first step when ICES collects data for analytics and research is the removal of direct personal identifiers and assignment of the IKN to each record. Once records in a dataset have an IKN assigned, any directly identifying information is stripped from the data, and the resulting information becomes part of the ICES data inventory. Access to ICES data for analytics and research typically includes coded data only. There are, however, limited exceptions when identifiable data is necessary to recruit participants into “patient contact studies.” More information about patient contact studies is available in the Special Data Projects section of this site.

Using ICES Data

ICES data provides the flexibility to link individual records across a large breadth of data. This allows use of ICES data for a wide variety of topics. For example, analysts can link physician claims, emergency visits and inpatient hospital records with drug claims information to see how many heart attack sufferers were hospitalized and treated in a timely fashion and how many had subsequent appointments with specialists and were prescribed appropriate medications on a follow-up basis. The same study might also integrate updates on outcomes, such as subsequent health service visits or death, recorded five or ten years later. It’s this ability to link data and create a story over time that makes ICES data so rich. The ICES data inventory is stored on servers housed within a closed computing system at ICES-Central on the campus of Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto.