Use of name recognition software, census data and multiple imputation to predict missing data on ethnicity: application to cancer registry records.

Ronan Ryan*, Sally Vernon, Gillian Lawrence, Sue Wilson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Citations (Scopus)


Information on ethnicity is commonly used by health services and researchers to plan services, ensure equality of access, and for epidemiological studies. In common with other important demographic and clinical data it is often incompletely recorded. This paper presents a method for imputing missing data on the ethnicity of cancer patients, developed for a regional cancer registry in the UK. Routine records from cancer screening services, name recognition software (Nam Pehchan and Onomap), 2001 national Census data, and multiple imputation were used to predict the ethnicity of the 23% of cases that were still missing following linkage with self-reported ethnicity from inpatient hospital records. The name recognition software were good predictors of ethnicity for South Asian cancer cases when compared with data on ethnicity derived from hospital inpatient records, especially when combined (sensitivity 90.5%; specificity 99.9%; PPV 93.3%). Onomap was a poor predictor of ethnicity for other minority ethnic groups (sensitivity 4.4% for Black cases and 0.0% for Chinese/Other ethnic groups). Area-based data derived from the national Census was also a poor predictor non-White ethnicity (sensitivity: South Asian 7.4%; Black 2.3%; Chinese/Other 0.0%; Mixed 0.0%). Currently, neither method for assigning individuals to an ethnic group (name recognition and ethnic distribution of area of residence) performs well across all ethnic groups. We recommend further development of name recognition applications and the identification of additional methods for predicting ethnicity to improve their precision and accuracy for comparisons of health outcomes. However, real improvements can only come from better recording of ethnicity by health services.

Original languageEnglish
Article number3
Pages (from-to)3
Number of pages1
JournalBMC Medical Informatics and Decision Making
Publication statusPublished - 2012

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This project was supported by the West Midlands Cancer Intelligence Unit (WMCIU). It was commissioned by the WMCIU which provided access to the data and funding for RR to carry out the project. GL is the Director of the WMCIU and SV was the Deputy Director of Cancer Registration at the WMCIU at the time of the study: they contributed to the writing of the manuscript and to the decision to submit the manuscript for publication. RR and SW are employed by the University of Birmingham.


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