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© 2018 Werbeloff et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited. Background Electronic health records (EHRs) are widely used in mental health services. Case registers using EHRs from secondary mental healthcare have the potential to deliver large-scale projects evaluating mental health outcomes in real-world clinical populations. Methods We describe the Camden and Islington NHS Foundation Trust (C&I) Research Database which uses the Clinical Record Interactive Search (CRIS) tool to extract and de-identify routinely collected clinical information from a large UK provider of secondary mental healthcare, and demonstrate its capabilities to answer a clinical research question regarding time to diagnosis and treatment of bipolar disorder. Results The C&I Research Database contains records from 108,168 mental health patients, of which 23,538 were receiving active care. The characteristics of the patient population are compared to those of the catchment area, of London, and of England as a whole. The median time to diagnosis of bipolar disorder was 76 days (interquartile range: 17–391) and median time to treatment was 37 days (interquartile range: 5–194). Compulsory admission under the UK Mental Health Act was associated with shorter intervals to diagnosis and treatment. Prior diagnoses of other psychiatric disorders were associated with longer intervals to diagnosis, though prior diagnoses of schizophrenia and related disorders were associated with decreased time to treatment. Conclusions The CRIS tool, developed by the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust (SLaM) Biomedical Research Centre (BRC), functioned very well at C&I. It is reassuring that data from different organizations deliver similar results, and that applications developed in one Trust can then be successfully deployed in another. The information can be retrieved in a quicker and more efficient fashion than more traditional methods of health research. The findings support the secondary use of EHRs for large-scale mental health research in naturalistic samples and settings investigated across large, diverse geographical areas.

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