Medical Records Revived:
Case Note Catalogues at
Lothian Health Services Archive

Case note cataloguing at LHSA

Modern archival case records are rich resources for medical humanities researchers, clinicians and genealogists alike, giving context to ground-breaking procedures and telling fascinating stories about the development of medical care in the twentieth century. Case notes are collected documents produced during the treatment and care of a particular patient. Loose notes in folders superseded the use of bound books from the mid-1920s, and they record the progress of patients in a range of ways, from typed summaries and charts to handwritten notes, x-rays, photographs, drawings and letters.

Despite case notes’ potential as academic resources, their research use to date has been limited. Researchers can be deterred by case notes’ physical condition (often housed in original folders), the sheer number of records produced, time-consuming searches for a particular category of data and case notes’ extremely specialist medical language. Confidentiality restrictions on modern health records also mean that potential researchers have to meet strict conditions for access even for scoping purposes. Previous grants from the Wellcome Trust have rehoused many of LHSA's most significant collections of case notes, removing physical barriers to their access. LHSA’s case note cataloguing aims to remove more intellectual hurdles.

Funded by the Wellcome Trust, in 2012 LHSA began a project to catalogue over 26,500 cases created by renowned Edinburgh neurosurgeon, Norman Dott. Cataloguing Norman Dott’s neurosurgical case notes (1920 – 1960) developed a methodology that describes each case in language accessible to researchers from different backgrounds whilst protecting patient privacy. Using the Encoded Archival Description (EAD) eXtensible Mark-up Language (XML) standard along with tailored index terms enables confidential data to be hidden from a public, online catalogue whilst emphasising other, non-identifying details for search.

When LHSA was awarded a further Wellcome Trust Research Resources grant in 2013, the same methodology was used to describe cases from a very different specialism. RVH v TB: a project to catalogue LHSA’s Royal Victoria Hospital Tuberculosis and Diseases of the Chest Case Notes and Registers will catalogue over 24,000 individual cases treated in the Royal Victoria Hospital, in its dispensary and sanatoriums and in the Scottish Mass Miniature Radiography (MMR) campaigns of 1957 and 1958. Although the cataloguing methodology remains basically the same as that used for Dott’s cases, the nature of tuberculosis means that certain details are emphasised above others for search.

Contact Details

For further information please contact:

Lothian Health Services Archive
Centre for Research Collections
University of Edinburgh
Main Library
30 George Square
Tel: 0131 650 3392