Although the NHS is a National service much electronic data has developed in systems that are not integrated with one another. Consequently there are many datasets in individual fields and departments that cannot be cross-referenced with other datasets because the ability to link data by a common record identifier has not been considered at the inception of the dataset.
With the expansion of elecontric data through, for example, the electronic patient record, there has been an increasing interest in data linkage between separate datasets in order to reach more accurate conclusions with bigger datasets.
An example of how this is starting to evolve is the use of the Hospital Episode Statistics dataset. This records every patient encounter in the UK whether it be augmented care, outpatients or accident and emergency, with information about various aspects of the care such as diagnosis and therapy. Separately there is a dataset on mortality for all deaths registered in the UK. It is clearly important to link the two datasets and this has now been established, as it has for mental health and other datasets.
There are many intracacies when considering how to link data. One of the most important linkages for gastroenterology if that between endoscopy and 30 day mortality and morbidity which may occur at the hospital where the endoscopy was carried out, or another hospital. other examples include linking the IBD registry to the National Endoscopy Database and so on.
The Institute is interested in the process of how to standardise datasets and provide guidance for the establishment of new, especially National, datastes to maximise the opportunity to link with other datasets and maximise the robust conclusions about patient care this type of linkage will create.
A good resource for NHS datasets can be found here