Electronic medical records: the way forward for primary care research?
Electronic medical records (EMRs) are becoming the norm in many health systems internationally, especially in the primary care setting. Though designed to help family doctors and other clinicians to record and manage patient care more accurately and efficiently, they are often useful for research purposes too. Indeed recent years have seen huge advances in the quality, availability and use of EMR databases for research. This increased use of EMRs for research has led to work, such as a recent paper from The Netherlands, attempting to establish quality criteria for these EMRs to be used in research (1). In the UK, the General Practice Research Database has recently become the Clinical Practice Research Datalink (CPRD) and aims to substantially extend its coverage in terms of population size and also the sources of data available (2). As with several Scandinavian registries [e.g. (3)], CPRD data can be linked with national registers (e.g. mortality, cancer), as well as sociodemographic and hospital admissions data. Until recently, the majority of primary care EMRs suitable for use in research have been from Western European countries, possibly due to their health care systems readily facilitating this sort of data collation. This is now changing, with a notable example of an up-and-coming EMR for use in research being Canadian Primary Care Sentinel Surveillance Network.