Another day, another example of how electronic medical records or electronic health records can lead to much more than just better health outcomes for individual patients.
When the issue of EMR software comes up, the debate normally weighs some potential downsides (a 2014 survey done by the American College of Physicians showed, for example, that doctors spend 48 more minutes per day on family practice EMRs than they would on paper records) against some very clear upsides (such as a 6% increase in overall efficiency). Overwhelmingly, the trend has leaned toward converting to electronic records, with 78% of office-based physicians using at least a basic electronic record system as of 2013, a 60% increase since 2001.
The rapidly increased usage of EMR software has done something else, too: created an enormous amount of data that can help doctors and scientists uncover previously unknown risks.
Example: Heart Attack Risks From Antacids
A large new study carried out by Houston Methodist and Stanford University researchers found from examining 16 million clinical documents recorded in EMRs that people who use certain common antacids are 16%-21% more likely to have heart attacks. These antacids, called proton pump inhibitors, include Nexium, Prilosec and Prevacid. Around 113 million prescriptions for these drugs are written every single year around the globe.
The study wasn’t designed in such a way that it can claim a cause-and-effect relationship between the medications and heart attacks, but the researchers did say that the association is clear and would not have been visible without the ability to mine such massive amounts of data.
The study was published June 10 in the prestigious journal PLOS One.
The Potential for Big Data in Medicine
This study was actually one of the first test runs of the program used to mine data from the EMRs. Its ability to offer this kind of insight is a resounding success, causing the International Business Times to say that the ability of a computer program to scan millions of records for key phrases — written in natural language by human doctors — is probably actually greater in significance than this study’s individual findings. And it’s also a clear confirmation that electronic data-gathering efforts have a place in modern healthcare.