Validity of electronic records on ethnicity – and more generally

Increasingly, health research relies on electronic health records and Big Data. On the other side of the argument methodologists like John Ioannidis are questioning the epistemological fitness of administrative data. A more tamed approach would be to acknowledge that electronic records are likely to contain errors, but such errors are unlikely to be systematic. In fact, and thanks to one of my two critical MD examiners, colleagues and I have had the chance to provide evidence supporting such a thesis (all done in a previous life and in the context of a specific survey). Nevertheless, as our recent paper on the accuracy of ethnicity coding in hospital records does indicate, maintaining a critical outlook about the validity of information included in electronic patient records is a prudent strategy. Questions of accuracy and validity of electronic records are always best addressed by ‘head on’ empirical research – e.g. by random sub-sample cross-validation. It was a great that we have been able to do so on this occasion using data from the English Cancer Patient Experience Survey – a policy initiative with an increasingly important impact on patient care and research.

Update: a summary of this research was published in Significance magazine in November 2014: CCHSR statistician Katie Saunders was a joint runner-up in the 2014 Young Statisticians Writing Competition, organised by Significance and the Young Statisticians Section of the Royal Statistical Society, for this work. It’s also been covered in the Guardian

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