Extracting antipsychotic polypharmacy data from electronic health records: developing and evaluating a novel process

BMC Psychiatry. 2015 Jul 22;15:166. doi: 10.1186/s12888-015-0557-z.


Background: Antipsychotic prescription information is commonly derived from structured fields in clinical health records. However, utilising diverse and comprehensive sources of information is especially important when investigating less frequent patterns of medication prescribing such as antipsychotic polypharmacy (APP). This study describes and evaluates a novel method of extracting APP data from both structured and free-text fields in electronic health records (EHRs), and its use for research purposes.

Methods: Using anonymised EHRs, we identified a cohort of patients with serious mental illness (SMI) who were treated in South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust mental health care services between 1 January and 30 June 2012. Information about antipsychotic co-prescribing was extracted using a combination of natural language processing and a bespoke algorithm. The validity of the data derived through this process was assessed against a manually coded gold standard to establish precision and recall. Lastly, we estimated the prevalence and patterns of antipsychotic polypharmacy.

Results: Individual instances of antipsychotic prescribing were detected with high precision (0.94 to 0.97) and moderate recall (0.57-0.77). We detected baseline APP (two or more antipsychotics prescribed in any 6-week window) with 0.92 precision and 0.74 recall and long-term APP (antipsychotic co-prescribing for 6 months) with 0.94 precision and 0.60 recall. Of the 7,201 SMI patients receiving active care during the observation period, 338 (4.7 %; 95 % CI 4.2-5.2) were identified as receiving long-term APP. Two second generation antipsychotics (64.8 %); and first -second generation antipsychotics were most commonly co-prescribed (32.5 %).

Conclusions: These results suggest that this is a potentially practical tool for identifying polypharmacy from mental health EHRs on a large scale. Furthermore, extracted data can be used to allow researchers to characterize patterns of polypharmacy over time including different drug combinations, trends in polypharmacy prescribing, predictors of polypharmacy prescribing and the impact of polypharmacy on patient outcomes.

Publication types

  • Evaluation Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Antipsychotic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Electronic Health Records / standards
  • Electronic Health Records / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • London / epidemiology
  • Mental Disorders / drug therapy*
  • Mental Disorders / epidemiology
  • Polypharmacy*
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians' / statistics & numerical data
  • Prevalence


  • Antipsychotic Agents