The Nordic countries as a cohort for pharmacoepidemiological research

Basic Clin Pharmacol Toxicol. 2010 Feb;106(2):86-94. doi: 10.1111/j.1742-7843.2009.00494.x. Epub 2009 Dec 4.


The Nordic countries have a long tradition of registry-based epidemiological research. Many population-based health registries were established in the 1960s, with use of unique personal identifiers facilitating linkage between registries. In recent years, each country has established a national database to track prescription drugs dispensed to individuals in ambulatory care. The objectives were to present an overview of the prescription databases established in the Nordic countries, as well as to elaborate on their unique potential for record linkage and cross-national comparison of drug utilization. Five Nordic countries collect drug exposure data based on drugs dispensed at pharmacies and have the potential to link these data to health outcomes. The databases together cover 25 million inhabitants (Denmark: 5.5 million; Finland: 5.3 million; Iceland: 0.3 million; Norway: 4.8 million; and Sweden: 9.2 million). In 2007, the registries encompassed 17 million prescription drug users (68% of the total population). We provide examples of how these databases have been used for descriptive drug utilization studies and analytical pharmacoepidemiological studies linking drug exposure to other health registries. Comparisons are facilitated by many similarities among the databases, including data source, content, coverage and methods used for drug utilization studies and record linkage. There are, however, some differences in coding systems and validity, as well as in some access and technical issues. To perform cross-national pharmacoepidemiological studies, resources, networks and time are needed, as well as methods for pooling data. Interpretation of results needs to account for inter-country heterogeneity and the possibility of spurious relationships. The Nordic countries have a unique potential for collaborative high-quality cross-national pharmacoepidemiological studies with large populations. This research may assist in resolving safety issues of international interest, thus minimizing the risk of either over-reacting on possible signals or underestimating drug safety issues.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Databases, Factual
  • Drug Utilization / statistics & numerical data
  • Finland
  • Humans
  • Iceland
  • Medical Record Linkage / methods
  • Pharmacoepidemiology / methods*
  • Prescription Drugs / therapeutic use
  • Registries*
  • Research Design*
  • Scandinavian and Nordic Countries


  • Prescription Drugs