Background: Research on the impact of changes in healthcare policy, developments in community and public health and determinants of health and disease during lifetime may effectively make use of routine healthcare data. These data, however, need to meet minimal criteria for quality and completeness. Research opportunities are further improved when routine data are supplemented with a standardized 'baseline' assessment of the full population. This formed the basis for a new study initiated in a newly developed large residential area in Leidsche Rijn, part of the city of Utrecht, the Netherlands.
Methods: All new inhabitants are invited by their general practitioner to participate in the Utrecht Health Project (UHP). Informed consent is obtained and an individual health profile (IHP) is made by dedicated research nurses. The IHP is the starting point for the UHP research database as well as for the primary care electronic medical records. Follow-up data are collected through continuous linkage with the computerized medical files recorded by the general practitioners. UHP staff in each practice takes care of quality management of registration as well as data handling.
Results: Currently, over 60% of invited new residents in the area have given informed consent with participation steadily increasing.
Discussion: The Utrecht Health Project combines key elements of traditional epidemiologic cohort studies with the current power of routine electronic medical record keeping in primary care. The research approach optimizes routine health care data for use in scientific research.