Adding community info to EHRs could prevent obesity, researchers say

Incorporating community-level data into EHRs might help doctors tailor their care and researchers better understand factors related to obesity, according to a Ohio State University study.

The researchers compared data on the weight of 62,701 people as recorded in EHRs with the prevalence of grocery stores, farmers markets and college education by ZIP code in Columbus, Ohio.

Higher education and better access to grocery stores and farmers markets were associated with lower risk of obesity, they found, although factors such as the type or location of a store can have a negative impact on health.

Such data isn't included in EHR records, but could be useful to providers, the researchers wrote.

"These data could be made available at the point of care, enabling clinicians to better factor a patient's environment into health recommendations and treatments and researchers to more readily perform this type of analysis." 

As healthcare data mining grows in popularity, so do the calls to add more non-clinical data points to EHRs. 

The Institute of Medicine recently urged providers to include social and behavioral health information in EHRs, including information about neighborhoods and communities, sexual orientation, country of origin, education, employment, exposure to violence and more.

The geographic health information system used at the Duke University Health System has illustrated the power of mapping to improve care and cut costs. It integrating U.S. census demographic data, county tax-parcel information, crime and housing statistics and environmental data in an effort to boost public health efforts.

In fact, capturing and adding social and behavioral data to EMRs may ulimately become a requirement for future stages of the Meaningful Use EHR incentive program--although that practice is not without critics, who say the industry is over-reaching.  

To learn more:
- find the research (.pdf)