University Of Tasmania

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Increasing knowledge of mental illness through secondary research of electronic health records: opportunities and challenges

Aim/Purpose: The primary use of electronic health records (EHRs) is in the care of the individual patient. Secondary research uses employ information in EHRs for purposes beyond that of care of the individual. Secondary research uses may broadly be divided into studies which focus on improving care and treatment of individuals and those which aim to increase knowledge about disease causes, associations and prevalence at a population level. This paper provides a review of studies that have used EHRs to increase knowledge at a population level. It examines the methods used, types of research conducted, difficulties and challenges faced and implications for future research and mental health research in particular.

Method: A review was undertaken based on a search for peer-reviewed and recently (i.e. since 2005) published articles with full-text available online. Findings/Results: The studies which have used EHRs to increase knowledge have predominantly involved; (1) data mining to identify biomarkers and gene–disease associations, (2) epidemiological research using linked/merged health records and (3) surveillance, prediction and alerts for diseases/illnesses. The principal methodological challenges identified were data quality, discrepancies/inconsistencies in data and interoperability of EHRs.

Conclusions: Despite the challenges faced in secondary usage of EHRs, significant research has been undertaken and researchers have proposed and tested various approaches to address methodological issues. The study methods employed in other fields of medical research can be extrapolated to study issues of significance to mental health using EHRs.


Publication title

Advances in Mental Health










Faculty of Law


eContent Management Pty Ltd.

Place of publication


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© 2015 Taylor & Francis

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  • Restricted

Socio-economic Objectives

Mental health

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