How access to data can give doctors answers

Electronic healthcare databases could help make life easier for healthcare professionals worried about whether or not to prescribe drugs to pregnant women. Academics from several European countries published research in early 2014 that shows there is already a wealth of information available to doctors on drug use in pregnancy. When combined, these databases have the potential to be a valuable source of information on patterns of drug use, and drug safety profiles, in pregnancy.

Folder with filesThe researchers explored the content of eight databases, containing the clinical history of 25 million patients in Denmark, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, and the UK. While the level of data relating to drug use in pregnancy varied by country, the authors noted that all databases offered considerable detail on the drugs prescribed and the doses recommended. Of course, databases can’t tell researchers whether or not a pregnant patient actually took their prescribed medicines, but what they can offer investigators is a clear timeline of when the mother-to-be was exposed to particular drugs. And that’s invaluable in the case that the child is born with any defects.

If standard surveillance systems are already a key tool for medical professionals as they decide whether or not to prescribe a drug to pregnant women, then sharing existing medical databases can take this a step further. This study across Europe shows that if we can break down the borders of clinical histories, that’ll give doctors even more information to help support their decisions over treatment. And it’ll also mean that doctors will be a fraction more confident that they’re giving pregnant women answers to their questions about medication based on experience, rather than speculation.

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