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GP records search could unearth thousands more with diabetes

By Lilian Anekwe

Half a million patients in the UK needing investigation for diabetes could be rapidly identified through GP records, using software being considered as part of the Government's cardiovascular screening plans.

A Government-funded study of more than 3.6 million electronic patient records found eight cases of undiagnosed diabetes would be uncovered in an average practice – 60,000 across the UK – by following up patients identified as at high risk.

The electronic system is already integrated into EMIS nationwide, and researchers are investigating ways to adapt it for other practice computer systems. They scanned records at 500 practices and identified 3,758 patients whose last blood glucose level – at under 7.0mmol/l while fasting or 11.1mmol/l if taken at random – was indicative of undiagnosed diabetes.

A further 32,785 patients were identified as at significant risk of diabetes and requiring further assessment. The research used the QResearch database and was published in March's British Journal of General Practice.

Study leader Dr Tim Holt, a lecturer in health sciences at the University of Warwick and a GP in Kenilworth, first trialled the system at his own surgery, and said: ‘We know screening the whole population is ineffective and inefficient. What we've done is to screen people with evidence of a possible problem. Its simplicity is its strength.'

The Department of Health said the research was ‘very interesting' and that a range of options were being examined for the first stage of vascular risk management.

Dr Surendra Kumar, a GP in Widnes, Cheshire, and member of the National Screening Committee, said: ‘It's important to say it would not be humanly possible to try to look at retrospective medical records of every patient in the country.'

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