In a new study published in the journal Circulation, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine Program in Public Health investigators identified similarities and differences between cardiovascular data pulled from electronic health records (EHRs) and data collected in a traditional cohort study.
The findings illustrate both the potential benefits and limitations of using clinical EHR data for epidemiological research, especially as EHRs become standard in healthcare systems and are increasingly leveraged for major research programs, such as the National Institute of Health’s “All of Us” precision medicine initiative.
“Electronic health records are going to be a valuable resource for research as we go forward, but no one has really looked at how reliable and valid the data that is being included is,” said senior author Dr. Norrina Allen, assistant professor of preventive medicine in the division of epidemiology. “This study is exciting because it’s the first time that we’ve been able to look at the accuracy of EHRs, and examine how we can leverage their strengths.”
Dr. Faraz Ahmad, a fellow in advanced heart failure and transplant cardiology, was the first author of the study.
To explore the validity of the two sources, the investigators examined the health data of individual patients who were included in both HealthLNK — an electronic database of close to three million Chicago area residents from six large health systems — and the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA), a traditional cohort study.
Because the MESA data was collected specifically for the purposes of cardiology research, and followed a rigorous protocol, the investigators could employ it as a “gold standard” with which to compare the clinical EHR data.
The investigators specifically compared measures of patient demographics, cardiovascular risk factors — such as blood pressure and BMI — and cardiovascular events.
They discovered that the EHRs had a significant amount of missing data for basic demographic characteristics, such as ethnicity, as compared to MESA.