New UK research partnership will unlock evidence contained in free text element of medical records

Posted on November 14, 2016

A new cross-sector network that will advance the UK’s text-analytics capabilities and unleash a powerful new wave of research was launched today (14th November 2016) at The University of Manchester.

Health informatics laucnh event

Researchers will be looking at how the free text element of medical records can be coded for research purposes

Funded by the EPSRC, the Healthcare Text Analytics Research Network (Healtex) assembles experience and expertise from across the UK.  The network currently consists of 14 UK universities, 8 NHS Trusts, private sector partners including Toshiba and Lingumatics, and includes researchers from across The Farr Institute of Health Informatics Research.

Central to Healtex’s objectives will be the development of new methods needed to transform the written, free-text element of an electronic health record and healthcare social media into practical research data.  These data can then be used by researchers to make health services more efficient and more responsive to patients’ needs.

The unstructured free-text element of a patient’s medical records allows clinicians to add valuable context about their patients’ health, including symptoms, side-effects and disease progression.  By translating this text into quantifiable datasets the information can be analysed by researchers to support and enhance existing sources of patient information like medication data and test results. Unlocking the free text data will provide a more accurate picture of the UK health and deliver powerful new insights into patient experiences.  Health service providers will be able to quickly action these insights making services more efficient and treatments more effective.

Alongside the analysis of information from healthcare records, the research network will investigate how conversations on social media platforms can be harvested to further enhance the range and quality of research data.  By capturing patient feedback and structuring this into relevant and practical information, patient voices will contribute to the improvement of health services and care pathways.

Dr Goran Nenadic, Principal Investigator on Healtex, based at The University of Manchester’s Health eResearch Centre said: “The fact that the majority of actionable information in healthcare is contained within free text data clearly indicates a potential to dramatically transform community health and care by the ability to process and integrate such information in real time. By deploying healthcare narratives as real-time sensors and integrating them with the structured data streams, Healtex will establish a patient focused collaborative ecosystem to facilitate informed decision making, timely interventions and deeper digital phenotyping for clinical epidemiology and population based modelling.”

The launch event is followed by a workshop to explore the unmet needs and challenges in using narrative data for clinical and epidemiological research. Prof Robert Stewart (KCL), who coordinates clinical involvement to the network activities, said: “It is a shame that the most important information about a person’s health is often only recorded as text in their health records and is therefore ‘invisible’ to technologies which might improve healthcare delivery (for example, through helping treatments to be targeted more effectively).”

Prof Irena Spasic (University of Cardiff) said: “HealTex partners have already built a notable track record in healthcare text analytics. However, these activities have been largely uncoordinated at the UK level and focused on local collaboration with specific NHS departments. By bringing the key research groups together in a collaborative network, we aim to accelerate the impact that text analytics is making to healthcare nationally”.

Healtex will also investigate the legal landscape to ensure the trustworthy re-use of health narrative data and will involve patients and members of the public throughout the project to ensure their rights are protected.



For more information contact Stephen Melia, Communications Manager, Health eResearch Centre.  Tel: 07557 310 213 Email:

  1. Initial membership of Healtex includes:

–          Universities of Manchester, King’s College, Edinburgh, Cardiff, Sheffield, Cambridge, Oxford, Brighton, Sussex, Aberdeen, UCL, Edinburgh Napier, Salford, Liverpool

–          The Farr Institute of Health Informatics Research (Farr@HeRC, Farr@London, Farr@Scotland, Farr@CIPHER)

–          NHS: The Christie Hospital NHS FT; Salford Royal FT; North Bristol NHS Trust; NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital; Cardiff and Vale University Health Board; Wales Centre for Primary & Emergency care Research, NHS Scotland

–          Industry: HealthUnlocked; Lingumatics; Big White Wall; Open Connections; Toshiba Medical Visualisation Systems; Quirkos;

  1. Network partners: UK Renal Registry; Arthritis Research UK; HealthUnlocked; South London and Maudsley NHS