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West J Nurs Res. 2017 Nov;39(11):1477-1501. doi: 10.1177/0193945916672449. Epub 2016 Oct 12.

Improving Quality and Safety Through Use of Secondary Data: Methods Case Study.

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1 Duke University, Durham, NC, USA.


Researchers need to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of data sets to choose a secondary data set to use for a health care study. This research method review informs the reader of the major issues necessary for investigators to consider while incorporating secondary data into their repertoire of potential research designs and shows the range of approaches the investigators may take to answer nursing research questions in a variety of context areas. The researcher requires expertise in locating and judging data sets and in the development of complex data management skills for managing large numbers of records. There are important considerations such as firm knowledge of the research question supported by the conceptual framework and the selection of appropriate databases, which guide the researcher in delineating the unit of analysis. Other more complex issues for researchers to consider when conducting secondary data research methods include data access, management and security, and complex variable construction.


database management; electronic health records; health services research; patient safety; quality improvement

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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