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Development and implementation of a ‘Mental Health Finder’ software tool within an electronic medical record system



In Ireland, as in many other healthcare systems, mental health service provision is being reconfigured with a move toward more care in the community, and particularly primary care. Recording and surveillance systems for mental health information and activities in primary care are needed for service planning and quality improvement.


We describe the development and initial implementation of a software tool (‘mental health finder’) within a widely used primary care electronic medical record system (EMR) in Ireland to enable large-scale data collection on the epidemiology and management of mental health and substance use problems among patients attending general practice.


In collaboration with the Irish Primary Care Research Network (IPCRN), we developed the ‘Mental Health Finder’ as a software plug-in to a commonly used primary care EMR system to facilitate data collection on mental health diagnoses and pharmacological treatments among patients. The finder searches for and identifies patients based on diagnostic coding and/or prescribed medicines. It was initially implemented among a convenience sample of six GP practices.


Prevalence of mental health and substance use problems across the six practices, as identified by the finder, was 9.4% (range 6.9–12.7%). 61.9% of identified patients were female; 25.8% were private patients. One-third (33.4%) of identified patients were prescribed more than one class of psychotropic medication. Of the patients identified by the finder, 89.9% were identifiable via prescribing data, 23.7% via diagnostic coding.


The finder is a feasible and promising methodology for large-scale data collection on mental health problems in primary care.

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We would like to thank all the GPs who took part in this project and the IPCRN for all their help in data collection and extraction, without whom this project would not have been possible. We would also like to thank the reviewers for their helpful comments and feedback on this manuscript.

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Correspondence to D. Swan.

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Conflict of interest

The authors have no conflict of interest to disclose.

Ethical approval

The study was approved by the ethics committee of the Irish College of General Practitioners. Formal patient consent was not required as all data were extracted and anonymized by the GP prior to forwarding to the research team.

Funding source

University of Limerick Graduate Entry Medical School Strategic Research Fund.

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Swan, D., Hannigan, A., Higgins, S. et al. Development and implementation of a ‘Mental Health Finder’ software tool within an electronic medical record system. Ir J Med Sci 186, 191–200 (2017).

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  • Software plug-in
  • Electronic medical record
  • Mental health
  • Substance use
  • Primary care