Study objective: To create a national data resource for studying morbidity in Scottish general practice, complementary to existing information systems and available for management and research purposes at national and local levels.
Design: The Department of General Practice, University of Aberdeen has worked since 1988 to collect and analyse computerised information at practice, regional, and national levels by distribution of a floppy disk-based software program, which extracts a predetermined dataset from each general practice computer system.
Setting: Almost 100% of patients in Scotland are registered with a general practitioner. Scotland has a national computer system, General Practice Administration System for Scotland (GPASS), used by over 75% of all Scottish practices. Escalating costs of health care and demographic changes in the national population emphasise the monetary value of the gatekeeper role of general medical practice. General practitioners' increasing involvement in the provision and purchasing of care has raised the importance of the management of populations as well as the care of individual patients.
Patients: Collection of major morbidity and prescribing data from up to 2.4 million patients, approximately half the population of Scotland, takes place biannually. A subset of practices (population 282,700 patients; 52 practices) are continuously collecting doctor/patient contact information (symptoms or diagnoses).
Main results: The data collected provide information at the level of the individual patient. Morbidity, prescribing, screening, and administrative data can be linked by patient, date or postcode. The sample population studied is representative by age, sex, deprivation, and sparsity (using the postcode) of the national population. Large sub-populations of patients satisfying a selected criteria can be extracted for further study of needs assessment or of epidemiological research.
Conclusions: The gatekeeping role of Scottish general practice and the predominance of GPASS favours standardisation of methods of data capture and the construction of large regional, national, and Continuous Morbidity databases. Analysis by geographical, demographic, and temporal distributions allows the changing patterns of illness and provision of health care to be studied in substantial detail to the benefit of patients, doctors, and the national health service.