BACKGROUND: Increasing adoption of electronic health records in hospitals provides new opportunities for patient data to support public health advances. Such learning healthcare models have generated ethical debate in high-income countries, including on the role of patient and public consent and engagement. Increasing use of electronic health records in low-middle income countries offers important potential to fast-track healthcare improvements in these settings, where a disproportionate burden of global morbidity occurs. Core ethical issues have been raised around the role and form of information sharing processes for learning healthcare systems, including individual consent and individual and public general notification processes, but little research has focused on this perspective in low-middle income countries.METHODS: We conducted a qualitative study on the role of information sharing and governance processes for inpatient data re-use, using in-depth interviews with 34 health stakeholders at two public hospitals on the Kenyan coast, including health managers, providers and researchers. Data were collected between March and July 2016 and analysed using a framework approach, with Nvivo 10 software to support data management. RESULTS: Most forms of clinical data re-use were seen as an important public health good. Individual consent and general notification processes were often argued as important, but contingent on interrelated influences of the type of data, use and secondary user. Underlying concerns were linked to issues of patient privacy and autonomy; perceived risks to trust in health systems; and fairness in how data would be used, particularly for non-public sector re-users. Support for engagement often turned on the anticipated outcomes of information-sharing processes, as building or undermining trust in healthcare systems.CONCLUSIONS: As reported in high income countries, learning healthcare systems in low-middle counties may generate a core ethical tension between supporting a public good and respecting patient autonomy and privacy, with the maintenance of public trust acting as a core requirement. While more evidence is needed on patient and public perspectives on learning healthcare activities, greater collaboration between public health and research governance systems is likely to support the development of efficient and locally responsive learning healthcare activities in LMICs.
Mbuthia, D., Molyneux, S., Njue, M., Mwalukore, S., Marsh, V.