Public attitudes to digital health research repositories: Cross-sectional international survey

Giovanna Nunes Vilaza*, David Coyle, Jakob Eyvind Bardram

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReviewpeer-review

107 Downloads (Pure)


Background: Digital health research repositories propose sharing longitudinal streams of health records and personal sensing data between multiple projects and researchers. Motivated by the prospect of personalizing patient care (precision medicine), these initiatives demand broad public acceptance and large numbers of data contributors, both of which are challenging. Objective: This study investigates public attitudes toward possibly contributing to digital health research repositories to identify factors for their acceptance and to inform future developments. Methods: A cross-sectional online survey was conducted from March 2020 to December 2020. Because of the funded project scope and a multicenter collaboration, study recruitment targeted young adults in Denmark and Brazil, allowing an analysis of the differences between 2 very contrasting national contexts. Through closed-ended questions, the survey examined participants' willingness to share different data types, data access preferences, reasons for concern, and motivations to contribute. The survey also collected information about participants' demographics, level of interest in health topics, previous participation in health research, awareness of examples of existing research data repositories, and current attitudes about digital health research repositories. Data analysis consisted of descriptive frequency measures and statistical inferences (bivariate associations and logistic regressions). Results: The sample comprises 1017 respondents living in Brazil (1017/1600, 63.56%) and 583 in Denmark (583/1600, 36.44%). The demographics do not differ substantially between participants of these countries. The majority is aged between 18 and 27 years (933/1600, 58.31%), is highly educated (992/1600, 62.00%), uses smartphones (1562/1600, 97.63%), and is in good health (1407/1600, 87.94%). The analysis shows a vast majority were very motivated by helping future patients (1366/1600, 85.38%) and researchers (1253/1600, 78.31%), yet very concerned about unethical projects (1219/1600, 76.19%), profit making without consent (1096/1600, 68.50%), and cyberattacks (1055/1600, 65.94%). Participants' willingness to share data is lower when sharing personal sensing data, such as the content of calls and texts (1206/1600, 75.38%), in contrast to more traditional health research information. Only 13.44% (215/1600) find it desirable to grant data access to private companies, and most would like to stay informed about which projects use their data (1334/1600, 83.38%) and control future data access (1181/1600, 73.81%). Findings indicate that favorable attitudes toward digital health research repositories are related to a personal interest in health topics (odds ratio [OR] 1.49, 95% CI 1.10-2.02; P=.01), previous participation in health research studies (OR 1.70, 95% CI 1.24-2.35; P=.001), and awareness of examples of research repositories (OR 2.78, 95% CI 1.83-4.38; P<.001). Conclusions: This study reveals essential factors for acceptance and willingness to share personal data with digital health research repositories. Implications include the importance of being more transparent about the goals and beneficiaries of research projects using and re-using data from repositories, providing participants with greater autonomy for choosing who gets access to which parts of their data, and raising public awareness of the benefits of data sharing for research. In addition, future developments should engage with and reduce risks for those unwilling to participate.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere31294
JournalJournal of Medical Internet Research
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • Digital medicine
  • Ethics
  • Health data repositories
  • Health informatics
  • Human-centered computing
  • Personal sensing
  • Technology acceptance
  • Willingness to share data


Dive into the research topics of 'Public attitudes to digital health research repositories: Cross-sectional international survey'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this