The availability of information technology, combined with newly acquired epidemiological competencies allows the carrying out of epidemiological and clinical studies on the efficacy of health systems which were unthinkable in the past. Data collected from a single physician have limited use if not used in a more global context. They acquire added value when they become part of a system in which not only is the data from other physicians collected but also from other competencies.
The traditional approach has been the setting up of single ad hoc studies, aimed at answering single questions or solving single problems. More recently however, there has been the tendency in epidemiology to create permanent systems that can allow the organization of more complex studies analyzing numerous aspects of health with far greater efficiency.
Examples of these new tools exist both in the field of record linkage of the population (Rochester-Omsted County Record Linkage study, United States; Oxford Record Linkage, UK; Group Health Cooperative of Puget Sound database, United States; Saskatchewan database, Canada; Sistema Informativo Sanitario Regionale in Friuli Venezia Giulia) as well as in general practice (General Practice Research Database, UK; IPCI, Holland).
Without substituting the traditional approach these new systems have the advantage of collecting data at a population level as a byproduct of routine activities, therefore generating a far larger quantity of data than ad hoc studies. This data produced by clinical practice, and not from protocols, represent a unique observational experience that allows us to study the dynamics of the various aspects of healthcare as well as the state of health of the population.
These systems are limited, depending on their structure and direction, by the completeness and quality of the data and therefore are not appropriate for studies on non-specific outcomes.
The extremely positive experience developed with specific scientific research in the Pedianet project lead us to consider the possibility of having a database which could execute queries (epidemiological register) in which to collect the data collected and supplied by a network of family pediatricians throughout the country during their routine daily work activities.
In 2000, funded by a Wellcome Glaxo educational grant, we started a project for the construction of a Pedianet database which can execute queries.