Background: Case registers have been used extensively in mental health research. Recent developments in electronic medical records, and in computer software to search and analyse these in anonymised format, have the potential to revolutionise this research tool.
Methods: We describe the development of the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust (SLAM) Biomedical Research Centre (BRC) Case Register Interactive Search tool (CRIS) which allows research-accessible datasets to be derived from SLAM, the largest provider of secondary mental healthcare in Europe. All clinical data, including free text, are available for analysis in the form of anonymised datasets. Development involved both the building of the system and setting in place the necessary security (with both functional and procedural elements).
Results: Descriptive data are presented for the Register database as of October 2008. The database at that point included 122,440 cases, 35,396 of whom were receiving active case management under the Care Programme Approach. In terms of gender and ethnicity, the database was reasonably representative of the source population. The most common assigned primary diagnoses were within the ICD mood disorders (n = 12,756) category followed by schizophrenia and related disorders (8158), substance misuse (7749), neuroses (7105) and organic disorders (6414).
Conclusion: The SLAM BRC Case Register represents a 'new generation' of this research design, built on a long-running system of fully electronic clinical records and allowing in-depth secondary analysis of both numerical, string and free text data, whilst preserving anonymity through technical and procedural safeguards.