There is a lack of quantitative evidence concerning UK (United Kingdom) Armed Forces (AF) veterans who access secondary mental health care services—specialist care often delivered in high intensity therapeutic clinics or hospitals—for their mental health difficulties. The current study aimed to investigate the utility and feasibility of identifying veterans accessing secondary mental health care services using National Health Service (NHS) electronic health records (EHRs) in the UK. Veterans were manually identified using the Clinical Record Interactive Search (CRIS) system—a database holding secondary mental health care EHRs for an NHS Trust in the UK. We systematically and manually searched CRIS for veterans, by applying a military-related key word search strategy to the free-text clinical notes completed by clinicians. Relevant data on veterans’ socio-demographic characteristics, mental disorder diagnoses and treatment pathways through care were extracted for analysis. This study showed that it is feasible, although time consuming, to identify veterans through CRIS. Using the military-related key word search strategy identified 1600 potential veteran records. Following manual review, 693 (43.3%) of these records were verified as “probable” veterans and used for analysis. They had a median age of 74 years (interquartile range (IQR): 53–86); the majority were male (90.8%) and lived alone (38.0%). The most common mental diagnoses overall were depressive disorders (22.9%), followed by alcohol use disorders (10.5%). Differences in care pathways were observed between pre and post national service (NS) era veterans. This feasibility study represents a first step in showing that it is possible to identify veterans through free-text clinical notes. It is also the first to compare veterans from pre and post NS era.
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