Linkage of primary care prescribing records and pharmacy dispensing Records in the Salford Lung Study: application in asthma

Holly Tibble, James Lay-flurrie, Aziz Sheikh, Rob Horne, Mehrdad A. Mizani, Athanasios Tsanas

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Records of medication prescriptions can be used in conjunction with pharmacy dispensing records to investigate the incidence of adherence, which is defined as observing the treatment plans agreed between a patient and their clinician. Using prescribing records alone fails to identify primary non-adherence; medications not being collected from the dispensary. Using dispensing records alone means that cases of conditions that resolve and/or treatments that are discontinued will be unaccounted for. While using a linked prescribing and dispensing dataset to measure medication non-adherence is optimal, this linkage is not routinely conducted. Furthermore, without a unique common event identifier, linkage between these two datasets is not straightforward.
We undertook a secondary analysis of the Salford Lung Study dataset. A novel probabilistic record linkage methodology was developed matching asthma medication pharmacy dispensing records and primary care prescribing records, using semantic (meaning) and syntactic (structure) harmonization, domain knowledge integration, and natural language feature extraction. Cox survival analysis was conducted to assess factors associated with the time to medication dispensing after the prescription was written. Finally, we used a simplified record linkage algorithm in which only identical records were matched, for a naïve benchmarking to compare against the results of our proposed methodology.
We matched 83% of pharmacy dispensing records to primary care prescribing records. Missing data were prevalent in the dispensing records which were not matched – approximately 60% for both medication strength and quantity. A naïve benchmarking approach, requiring perfect matching, identified one-quarter as many matching prescribing records as our methodology. Factors associated with delay (or failure) to collect the prescribed medication from a pharmacy included season, quantity of medication prescribed, previous dispensing history and class of medication. Our findings indicate that over 30% of prescriptions issued were not collected from a dispensary (primary non-adherence).
We have developed a probabilistic record linkage methodology matching a large percentage of pharmacy dispensing records with primary care prescribing records for asthma medications. This will allow researchers to link datasets in order to extract information about asthma medication non-adherence.
Original languageEnglish
Article number303
JournalBMC Medical Research Methodology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 10 Dec 2020


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