A new research tool is decoding doctors' notes, and using previously untouched medical data to map health trends.
An algorithm has been developed to help researchers access the medical notes that are written electronically into patient records.
The "Big Data" was previously inaccessible without reading through each patient's individual notes and will help chart an in-depth understanding of why people visit their GPs, the differences between population groups' appointments and how patient's visits change over time.
Otago University professor Tony Dowell said the partnership between IT specialists and doctors will help give researchers a more accurate estimate of the level of childhood illnesses locally.
"We have previously had good information about what illnesses are seen in hospital, and what workload that creates for health services," he said.
"Now we will be able to get an idea of what happens in general practice and primary care."
The privacy of patients will be protected with each record unidentifiable to researchers.
Prof Dowell said the next step is to investigate around three quarters of a million records to estimate the prevalence and burden of childhood respiratory illness in primary care.