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Challenges in Identifying Refugees in National Health Data Sets.



To evaluate publicly available data sets to determine their utility for studying refugee health.


We searched for keywords describing refugees in data sets within the Society of General Internal Medicine Dataset Compendium and the Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research database. We included in our analysis US-based data sets with publicly available documentation and a self-defined, health-related focus that allowed for an examination of patient-level factors.


Of the 68 data sets that met the study criteria, 37 (54%) registered keyword matches related to refugees, but only 2 uniquely identified refugees.


Few health data sets identify refugee status among participants, presenting barriers to understanding refugees' health and health care needs.

Public health implications

Information about refugee status in national health surveys should include expanded demographic questions and focus on mental health and chronic disease.

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