How can electronic population health information be translated into effective tools for education and decision-making with the power to improve the outcome for individual patients?
Data related to osteoporosis, a condition that causes bones to become thin and porous, for example, can be used to predict the risk of an individual suffering a hip fracture, suggests Lisa Lix, an internationally-recognized expert in methods for research and surveillance of chronic health conditions and Canada Research Chair in Methods for Electronic Health Data Quality. Her collaborations on osteoporosis-related fracture risk assessment tools have helped to develop clinical guidelines on fracture prevention and treatment.
Living in a country where a wealth of current and historic health data is available and deemed a valuable resource for research, Canadians are at an advantage, believes Dr. Lix, a University of Manitoba biostatistician and population health scientist and professor in Community Health Sciences, Rady Faculty of Health Sciences. “Having access to data for looking at population health issues is key – but we also need to have confidence in the data,” she says. “My research focuses on data quality and on building this confidence in using data for a multitude of purposes that can lead to better health outcomes.”
Dr. Lix primarily works with real-world data – population-based data – coming from three sources: administrative health data (i.e., transactional data generated in the health care system), electronic medical records, and clinical or health-care registries, such as the Joint Replacement Registry for the Winnipeg health region.
Data from these sources are used in anonymized form for research, says Dr. Lix. “We systematically look at trends in chronic diseases, which can enable us to create prediction models to better understand health risks and outcomes.”
Large population-based databases allow researchers to analyze the distribution of disease over time, across geography, across age groups, for males and females, as well as for small segments of the population, she explains. And a significant volume of historical data can help us understand generational changes.
“In Manitoba, for example, real-world data go back to the 1970s. Being able to look at long-term trends can help us gain a perspective of how chronic diseases are changing over time,” says Dr. Lix. “Some of my research looks at changes in the health histories between different generations, such as comparing the health of offspring and parent at the population level.”
Dr. Lix’s research to accurately measure the prevalence and incidence of conditions like diabetes and arthritis, for example, is used by the Public Health Agency of Canada’s Canadian Chronic Disease Surveillance System, a collaborative network of provincial and territorial surveillance systems enhancing the scope of data on 20 chronic diseases.
The aim is to support the planning of health resources and development of health policies and programs. Health information can also aid advocacy groups like Osteoporosis Canada in their mission to increase education and public awareness, which, in turn, can help patients.
“Building prediction tools is all about outcomes for patients – that’s the value of looking at differences in the burden of chronic disease in different populations,” says Dr. Lix. “This information can influence a person’s decision about seeking care or modifying behaviour that may reduce a particular risk.”
Canada’s expertise in working with real-world health data is also informing practices worldwide, she adds. “We’ve developed innovative methods for evaluating the quality of data – and these methods are shared internationally to assist governments, agencies and researchers in building confidence in the results coming from research using real-world data.”
Clearly, it is experts like Dr. Lix, with experience in the statistical methods required for working with complex health-care databases and addressing the challenges of error-prone data, who contribute to Canada’s advanced position in this field.
Produced by Randall Anthony Communications. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved in its creation.