OpenSAFELY-EMIS collaboration delivering insights into Long Covid

A collaboration between EMIS and the open-source research platform OpenSAFELY has been delivering important insights into COVID-19

Through the partnership with EMIS, the OpenSAFELY platform was integrated into EMIS-X Analytics to support secure analysis of the EMIS Web primary care records in England – enabling NHS England researchers based at the University of Oxford and the London School of Tropical Hygiene and Medicine to interrogate the GP records of 96% of the English population.

EMIS worked closely with the OpenSAFELY team to create a secure, trusted research environment within its cloud-based EMIS-X Analytics suite to allow the records of all 4,000 practices to be searched as one. Researchers access the data under the COPI emergency data access legislation.

Initially researchers were looking for how many patient records contained a recorded code for long Covid. Long COVID is a term to describe new or persistent symptoms at least four weeks after the onset of acute COVID-19. Clinical codes to describe this phenomenon were released in November 2020 in the UK, but the researchers wanted to understand how these had been used in practice.

“We are hugely grateful to EMIS for its months of hard work to enable us to reach this landmark position, with researchers now able to access the health records of 96% of the UK population, under COPI legislation, with all of the privacy and transparency features of OpenSAFELY.”

Dr Ben Goldacre, Director of the DataLab at the University of Oxford

The first paper drawing on the enlarged database was published in the British Journal of General Practice in May 2021. It found that GP recorded diagnoses of Long COVID were substantially lower than previous survey estimates and recommended steps to further investigate the finding, as more work is done to understand, diagnose and treat this still little understood condition. 

On the day of publication, Dr Ben Goldacre, Director of the DataLab at the University of Oxford, who leads the OpenSAFELY project, said: “Today’s paper on the under-reporting of Long COVID in medical records is the first in a wave of research projects to benefit from the newly-extended OpenSAFELY platform."

Other research projects in this collaboration are investigating the uptake of the UK COVID vaccination programme, including detailed analysis of the regional and demographic coverage of the programme and the factors as to why people have declined to have the vaccine.

“Good data on COVID is crucial for research and, though the immediate threat from the pandemic is now receding, there is much more work to be done to benefit public health and medical knowledge as we move forward.”

Dr Ben Goldacre, Director of the DataLab at the University of Oxford

Dr Shaun O’Hanlon, Chief Medical Officer at EMIS, said: “As the UK’s leading provider of healthcare software, EMIS is proud to support NHS England and OpenSAFELY through this collaboration.

“By enabling secure access to the primary care records of 35 million patients in England, and linking those to a number of other national datasets plus data from other system suppliers, researchers are now able to run analysis across almost the whole of the English population at source."

“The resulting insight, including the findings about the diagnosis and reporting of Long Covid, will be a vital tool to support future planning and services around the pandemic.”

He added: “With a 25-year track record in research and analytics, EMIS has created in EMIS-X Analytics a trusted, next generation research environment that is helping researchers to generate meaningful and actionable population level insights.”

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