OBJECTIVE--To develop a computerised primary care information gathering network capable of producing reliable risk factor and morbidity data from a wide diversity of general practice software systems. METHOD--Fourteen practices from the Wakefield and Pontefract district collaborated in sharing information and solving technical difficulties associated with collecting data on coronary heart disease (CHD) risk factors, diabetes, and asthma. Practices also participated in rheumatology and mental health needs assessment projects. RESULTS--Data could be transferred by diskette in only five of the systems and paper reports had to be used to post process the data into a standard format. Not all data were complete or comparable. Crude estimates only of smoking prevalence and smoking cessation interventions were possible, as well as of age and sex specific prevalences for asthma and diabetes. The rheumatology health needs assessment, using the prospective collection of consultation based data, highlighted an unmet need for rheumatology services in the community. CONCLUSIONS--Although practices have been willing to devote considerable time and effort to the project, the diversity of software has precluded a simple methodology for data collection and analysis. The amount of useful information retrieved so far, has been limited but a number of important lessons have been learned which have implications for similar information projects and the use of primary care information in service planning.
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