Identifying social factors amongst older individuals in linked electronic health records: An assessment in a population based study

PLoS One. 2017 Nov 30;12(11):e0189038. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0189038. eCollection 2017.


Identification and quantification of health inequities amongst specific social groups is a pre-requisite for designing targeted healthcare interventions. This study investigated the recording of social factors in linked electronic health records (EHR) of individuals aged ≥65 years, to assess the potential of these data to identify the social determinants of disease burden and uptake of healthcare interventions. Methodology was developed for ascertaining social factors recorded on or before a pre-specified index date (01/01/2013) using primary care data from Clinical Practice Research Datalink (CPRD) linked to hospitalisation and deprivation data in a cross-sectional study. Social factors included: religion, ethnicity, immigration status, small area-level deprivation, place of residence (including communal establishments such as care homes), marital status and living arrangements (e.g. living alone, cohabitation). Each social factor was examined for: completeness of recording including improvements in completeness by using other linked EHR, timeliness of recording for factors that might change over time and their representativeness (compared with English 2011 Census data when available). Data for 591,037 individuals from 389 practices from England were analysed. The completeness of recording varied from 1.6% for immigration status to ~80% for ethnicity. Linkages provided the deprivation data (available for 82% individuals) and improved completeness of ethnicity recording from 55% to 79% (when hospitalisation data were added). Data for ethnicity, deprivation, living arrangements and care home residence were comparable to the Census data. For time-varying variables such as residence and living alone, ~60% and ~35% respectively of those with available data, had this information recorded within the last 5 years of the index date. This work provides methods to identify social factors in EHR relevant to older individuals and shows that factors such as ethnicity, deprivation, not living alone, cohabitation and care home residence can be ascertained using these data. Applying these methodologies to routinely collected data could improve surveillance programmes and allow assessment of health equity in specific healthcare studies.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Electronic Health Records*
  • Emigration and Immigration
  • Ethnicity
  • Humans