ADR UK spoke to Professor Katie Harron, Professor of Statistics and Health Data Science at University College London’s Institute of Child Health and one of the researchers responsible for the ECHILD project, at the 2022 International Population Data Linkage (IPDLN) Conference.
Running from Wednesday 7 – Friday 9 September, the conference brought together more than 500 researchers, analysts and data professionals from 14 countries to collaborate and share learning. The IPDLN is a global network that promotes population health research using linked data. Every two years a new member organisation takes over the directorship and is responsible for planning the conference. ADR UK directed IPDLN for 2021 - 2022.
Could you explain the ECHILD project?
ECHILD is a new resource that links data for all children in England who attend state schools, and so are captured in the National Pupil Database (NPD), and their education and social care records linked with hospital records captured in Hospital Episode Statistics. We’re using this to understand the interrelationships between child health and education.
What made you decide to participate in the IPDLN conference, and what did you hope to get out of it?
I’ve been coming to versions of this conference since I was a PhD student. It’s the conference I enjoy the most because the people here are exactly who I want to discuss my work with – they understand it, and they’re doing similar things and inspiring things.
The friendly atmosphere – and the opportunity to meet in person all these people whose papers you’ve read, or who you’ve collaborated with virtually – is also a plus.
Could you talk me through the presentations you’ve delivered or participated in at IPDLN 2022?
I was part of one of the pre-conference workshops; we did an early career workshop discussing ‘where can your PhD take you next?’. There were a few of us talking about our experiences doing PhDs. I’ve always been in academia, but there were others from different walks of life and industries, so it was about telling people no matter what your background is and what your interests are, you can find your niche.
I also presented on a project I’ve been working on to evaluate the Family Nurse Partnership (FNP), using linked administrative data from health, social care and education. The FNP is an early intervention for first-time teenage mothers and it’s been evaluated in randomised controlled trials, but we wanted to use linked administrative data to look at data for any mother who had participated in the programme, and a broader range of outcomes on a larger scale than had been previously possible.
Have you taken away any insights that could benefit ECHILD, or your other projects?
I’m working with a PhD student at the moment who’s thinking about ethnic bias in data linkage. Differential linkage across ethnic groups means that linkage can be more likely to miss certain ethnic groups, for example because of more complicated name structures that mean they’re more prone to linkage errors. So, he’s starting to think about methods to handle that, and incorporating those methods into existing software, and in particular, software that a team at the Ministry of Justice have developed, called SPLINK. It’s been a great opportunity to discuss and explore the potential of this software to improve data linkage for public good.
What are your overall reflections on the conference?
I’ve just had a great time. The first conference you go to as a PhD student can be quite impactful. So this is hopefully a good start for the early career researchers that are here, because it’s such a friendly atmosphere and people are so supportive and genuinely interested in what other people are working on rather than trying to pick holes in it.
There’s a really nice mix of methodology and methodological work in the presentations, and there’s quite a lot on maternal and child health which is the area I’m interested in. There’s more now than there has been previously on cross-sectoral linkage which is great to see, as we try to better understand the social determinants of health.
We are exploring how to open up access to ECHILD for research. Find out more about the project.
Membership of the IPDLN is free and open to any individual that supports the purpose of the network. The next IPDLN conference will be held in Chicago in 2024. Become a member.