EHR database drastically enhances medical research

A company backed by the Cleveland Clinic recently proved just how valuable electronic health records can be for medical research. Researchers at Explorys, which was created in 2009 with the intent of providing researchers with searchable access to de-identified patient data, used a database of electronic health records to replicate in three months a study by Norwegian researchers that originally took 14 years to create, The Plain Dealer reports. What's more, the replicated study used a sample roughly 40 times the size of its predecessor.

The company's results--which were led by David Kaelber, chief medical informatics officer for Cleveland-based MetroHealth System-- were published online last month in the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association. Kaelber and his colleagues believe their results show promise for conducting large studies using a minimal amount of resources.

The original study, which was published in April 2011, involved nearly 27,000 people. After recording various measures of obesity for each person, the researchers followed the participants for 13 years, recording every blood clot for every patient. They determined that people--particularly men--who were both obese and tall were at a greater risk for developing blood clots.

Kaelber's study--which set out to produce and achieved the exact same results--involved retroactively sifting through 13 years worth of electronic records for nearly 960,000 people.

Sharona Hoffman, a professor of law and bioethics at Case Western Reserve University School of Law, told The Plain Dealer she thought using electronic health record databases for medical research provided a "tremendous" opportunity to "improve medical outcomes." However, she also pointed out the limitations of relying only on health records for research.

"[I]f [a record] is incomplete or flawed, you're stuck with it and you better realize it so that your analysis isn't skewed," Hoffman said.

To learn more:
- here's article in The Plain Dealer
- here's the JAMIA study's abstract