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by Yaneer Bar-Yam
Step VII: Use E-Records for Research

Electronic records, which have become increasingly prevalent in recent years, represent a valuable repository of medical data. There are over 300 million people in the United States, most of whom are receiving some sort of medical care. If anonymized medical records were made available to researchers, these e-records could be leveraged to improve care at low cost. 

In today’s quest to answer questions about medicine and human health, the large-scale, controlled clinical trial is central. New drugs, surgical techniques, non-surgical interventions and medical devices are typically tested in such studies, which require the creation of control and test groups, controlling for confounding factors such as age and lifestyle, and the tracking of patients.  

While these studies are essential for testing new drugs and interventions, not every medical question can or should be tested using a clinical trial, given the human and monetary resources that are required to conduct such studies. 

Physicians and researchers already have other accepted ways of advancing medical knowledge.  

Observational studies and chart reviews typically analyze groups of patients based on the condition displayed or the intervention used, and are often performed when large randomized studies are infeasible. They can yield important results even without the controls needed for clinical trials.  

Physicians author case reports as a means of sharing their experiences with especially instructive cases. These reports are regarded as valuable parts of the medical literature and are a standard part of peer-reviewed medical journals. The medical field recognizes and accepts knowledge gained through observational studies, chart reviews and case reports in addition to controlled clinical studies.  

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