STUDY OBJECTIVE--Dutch public health services are charged with collective preventive care for the population--care that should, by law, be based on epidemiological data. General practices potentially offer important data for this purpose, particularly since more and more use a computer. This study aimed to assess whether it is possible to obtain useful epidemiological data from this source. DESIGN--In 1990, the Rotterdam Municipal Health Service, in collaboration with the Erasmus University Rotterdam, started a computerised sentinel practice network. The main features of this and a specific small investigation are described. SETTING--The following institutions cooperate in the network: Municipal Health Service Rotterdam Area; Departments of General Practice and of Medical Informatics, Erasmus University Rotterdam; Rotterdam District Association of General Practitioners. PATIENTS--Data are currently collected from 20 general practitioners and > 40,000 patients. In a specific project, the distribution of cardiovascular risk factors in different ethnic groups was compared. MAIN RESULTS--It was possible to build up a regional epidemiological registration system in this manner. In the cardiovascular project we found striking differences between ethnic groups. The risk profile for Turkish men, in particular, was less favourable. The health service also uses the system to improve cooperation between public health and primary health care (for example, in cervical screening, influenza vaccination). CONCLUSION--Computerised general practices offer great possibilities for research and for preventive activities in which public health care and general practitioners can cooperate.
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