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New Algorithm Revolutionises MS detection from Health Records in Wales

03 July 2024

A new study published in the BMJ Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry has unveiled a groundbreaking algorithm for identifying Multiple Sclerosis (MS) cases from health records in Wales. This development promises to enhance early detection and comprehensive tracking of MS, which could offer significant benefits for patient care and research. 

Challenges to Diagnosis 

MS is notoriously difficult to diagnose. The diagnostic process can be lengthy, and MS often isn't the primary reason for hospital admission, complicating efforts to track its prevalence by using routine healthcare data. Traditional healthcare systems frequently lack the detailed treatment or disease notification data necessary for accurate identification. 

Aim and Methodology of the study

The primary objective of the study was to develop a reliable algorithm capable of identifying MS cases within a national health databank. Researchers conducted a retrospective analysis using the Secure Anonymised Information Linkage (SAIL) databank, a rich repository of anonymized health records. 

To ensure the algorithm's robustness, its sensitivity and specificity were tested against two independent datasets: 

  1. A clinically validated and population-based dataset. 
  1. A self-registered MS national registry. 

Key Findings 

The analysis covered 4,757,428 records, revealing 6,194 living MS cases in Wales as of December 31, 2020.  

This equates to a prevalence of 221.65 per 100,000 people (95% CI 216.17 to 227.24). 

Algorithm Performance: 

  • Sensitivity: 96.8% for the clinically validated cohort. 
  • Specificity: 99.9% for the clinically validated cohort. 
  • Sensitivity: 96.7% for the self-registered registry. 

Implications and Utility 

The algorithm demonstrated exceptional accuracy in identifying MS cases within the SAIL databank, with high sensitivity and specificity. This validation, achieved through testing against two independent populations, underscores the algorithm's reliability and potential for large-scale epidemiological studies. 

By accurately identifying MS cases from extensive health records, this tool can aid in earlier diagnosis and better tracking of disease patterns. This is a significant advancement, given the challenges traditionally associated with detecting MS through routine healthcare data. 

Future Applications 

The validated algorithm offers a powerful resource for researchers conducting large-scale studies on MS, enabling them to draw more accurate conclusions about the disease's prevalence and progression. Furthermore, it can enhance patient care by facilitating earlier detection and intervention, potentially improving outcomes for individuals with MS. 

Conclusions of the study 

This study marks a pivotal step forward in the use of health data analytics for Multiple Sclerosis research and care. The development and successful validation of this algorithm highlight the potential for similar approaches to be applied to other complex diseases, revolutionising how we use healthcare data for disease detection and management. 


For more information on this study and to explore its detailed findings, visit the BMJ Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry

If you have MS and would like to participate in a groundbreaking study currently available through Swansea University, then please visit the UK MS Register by clicking on this link. The MS Register is helping to provide and grow an extraordinarily rich bank of data that researchers can learn from, with major potential to positively impact people living with MS.  

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