Many animal health, welfare and food safety databases include data on clinical and test-based disease diagnoses. However, the circumstances and constraints for establishing the diagnoses vary considerably among databases. Therefore results based on different databases are difficult to compare and compilation of data in order to perform meta-analysis is almost impossible. Nevertheless, diagnostic information collected either routinely or in research projects is valuable in cross comparisons between databases, but there is a need for improved transparency and documentation of the data and the performance characteristics of tests used to establish diagnoses. The objective of this paper is to outline the circumstances and constraints for recording of disease diagnoses in different types of databases, and to discuss these in the context of disease diagnoses when using them for additional purposes, including research. Finally some limitations and recommendations for use of data and for recording of diagnostic information in the future are given. It is concluded that many research questions have such a specific objective that investigators need to collect their own data. However, there are also examples, where a minimal amount of extra information or continued validation could make sufficient improvement of secondary data to be used for other purposes. Regardless, researchers should always carefully evaluate the opportunities and constraints when they decide to use secondary data. If the data in the existing databases are not sufficiently valid, researchers may have to collect their own data, but improved recording of diagnostic data may improve the usefulness of secondary diagnostic data in the future.
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