Examples of how research using CPRD data benefits public health

Preventing whooping cough in new-born babies

Whooping cough can cause serious and fatal complications in new-born babies and young children. Babies are routinely vaccinated early, from two months of age, but can still be at risk if a mother catches whooping cough whilst pregnant. 

After an outbreak of whooping cough in 2012, a national programme was introduced to give pregnant mothers a vaccine to protect their baby. CPRD data was vital for checking the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine after the programme was introduced. As a result of the research, all GPs and maternity services now routinely vaccinate all pregnant mothers from 20 weeks.

The CPRD database is crucial for investigating the safety and effectiveness of medical treatments during pregnancy. The greater the number of women in our database, either pregnant or not pregnant and of all ages, the more treatments we can investigate.

Diagram showing whooping cough information

Helping doctors to diagnose cancer as early as possible

The National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE) regularly reviews new medical research and write guidelines on the best and most up-to-date ways to diagnose and treat patients. 

One important decision that doctors must regularly make is when a patient’s symptoms could suggest the possibility of cancer. In this case, NICE guidelines are vital to help doctors decide when to refer patients for further specialist tests. For example, a patient visiting their doctor with blood in their urine may have an early sign of bladder cancer, or, more likely, they may have a bladder infection. NICE guidelines support doctors with the decision of how best to move forward with treatment. 

Research using the CPRD database is essential for writing NICE guidelines. It helps researchers to calculate how many patients with a particular symptom go on to be diagnosed with cancer. This allows researchers to attach a ‘level of risk’ to all the symptoms commonly seen in patients visiting their doctor, and helps doctors to know when further investigation is needed. 

Confirming the benefit of the flu vaccine for patients with type 2 diabetes

For individuals with type 2 diabetes, catching the seasonal winter flu may increase the risk of heart disease complications such as heart attack, stroke and pneumonia. As a result, doctors currently recommend that individuals with diabetes receive the flu vaccine each year. CPRD data has been used to investigate the benefits of the flu vaccine for preventing admissions to hospital and death due to flu. 

Researchers found that individuals who had received the flu vaccine had fewer incidences of stroke and heart failure over a seven-year period. In contrast, individuals with diabetes who had not been vaccinated had a higher chance of death than those who had been vaccinated. 

This study was crucial to confirm the benefits of flu vaccination and that the current recommendation for yearly immunisation is worthwhile and accurate. The study also guides doctors as to which patients should receive the flu vaccination as a priority for individual health, and to reduce the number of hospital admissions nationwide. 

Investigating the risks and benefits of hormone replacement therapy for the menopause

Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is a treatment commonly recommended to relieve symptoms of the menopause. It is crucial to understand the benefits and risks of HRT in women of different ages, with other medical conditions and any potential interactions with other medicines. 

CPRD data has been a valuable tool to investigate the effects of HRT in a wide range of women and to assess any potentially harmful effects. One key area of research has looked at the risk of heart and circulation conditions in women taking HRT. CPRD studies have shown that there is a greater risk of having a stroke, heart attack or blood clot when taking HRT, although this is very small compared to the number of women who take HRT for long periods and do not have any problems. However, these studies are vital to understand which women would not be suitable for HRT and for doctors to know when it would be better to prescribe a different medicine. 

When risks are small and side effects are rare, it is important to include the greatest number of individuals possible in a research study, to be sure the results are accurate.


[Page last reviewed 15 October 2018]