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

With the use of e-records, the scope of chart reviews and the sharing of case reports are dramatically expanded by many orders of magnitude.  This represents a unique opportunity to leverage vast amounts of newly available data to explore many medical questions.  

Recently, the drug Vioxx was recalled due to side effects causing higher rates of heart attack than comparable drugs. The recall took place one month after results of a study using medical records from 1.4 million people were reported. This recall is one example of how collecting and using data from actual patients can lead to medical advances. 

Another example of data gathering that has led to significant recent advances is the ongoing Framingham Heart Study. This longitudinal study has tracked over 10,000 individuals from three consecutive generations, monitoring their physical health and lifestyle choices, in order to learn about cardiovascular disease. That information has been used by researchers to make many advances, ranging from genetics to the role of social networks. 

Many other studies have been based upon survey and medical reporting data collected by the CDC. The data that could be made available dwarfs current resources.  

As previously noted, medical care data is logged for many millions of people in the United States. We can leverage the sheer volume of available data, combined with new pattern-recognition methods and theoretical advances in data analysis, to increase our knowledge in ways beyond the practical reach of other methods. 

At the very least, analyzing these data could reveal previously unknown connections–for example, between a particular medication, a bit of medical history, and a seemingly unrelated disease–that would provide clues as to what questions should be pursued in formal, controlled studies. 

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