"There are too many, but never enough": qualitative case study investigating routine coding of clinical information in depression

Kathrin Cresswell, Zoe Jane Morrison, Dipak Kalra, Aziz Sheikh

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)
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BACKGROUND: We sought to understand how clinical information relating to the management of depression is routinely coded in different clinical settings and the perspectives of and implications for different stakeholders with a view to understanding how these may be aligned.

MATERIALS AND METHODS: Qualitative investigation exploring the views of a purposefully selected range of healthcare professionals, managers, and clinical coders spanning primary and secondary care.

RESULTS: Our dataset comprised 28 semi-structured interviews, a focus group, documents relating to clinical coding standards and participant observation of clinical coding activities. We identified a range of approaches to coding clinical information including templates and order entry systems. The challenges inherent in clearly establishing a diagnosis, identifying appropriate clinical codes and possible implications of diagnoses for patients were particularly prominent in primary care. Although a range of managerial and research benefits were identified, there were no direct benefits from coded clinical data for patients or professionals. Secondary care staff emphasized the role of clinical coders in ensuring data quality, which was at odds with the policy drive to increase real-time clinical coding.

CONCLUSIONS: There was overall no evidence of clear-cut direct patient care benefits to inform immediate care decisions, even in primary care where data on patients with depression were more extensively coded. A number of important secondary uses were recognized by healthcare staff, but the coding of clinical data to serve these ends was often poorly aligned with clinical practice and patient-centered considerations. The current international drive to encourage clinical coding by healthcare professionals during the clinical encounter may need to be critically examined.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere43831
Number of pages10
JournalPloS ONE
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 24 Aug 2012


  • clinical coding
  • depression
  • depressive disorder
  • focus groups
  • humans
  • interviews as topic
  • primary health care
  • qualitative research


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