Two New Studies Show the Power of EHR Data

Two new studies show how EHR data can inform practice and improve individual and community health.

Two new studies show how EHR data can inform practice and improve individual and community health.

Two new journal articles authored by Department of Family Medicine (DFM) faculty, staff and colleagues demonstrate the increasingly important role that electronic health record (EHR) data plays in informing clinical practice—and improving the health of individuals and communities.

The articles are based on studies that used data from the University of Wisconsin Electronic Health Record – Public Health Information Exchange (PHINEX) database, which links de-identified EHR data from UW Health primary care clinics in south-central Wisconsin with census-derived socioeconomic and demographic variables.

Pinpointing Childhood Obesity Determinants, Disparities

Both articles focus on data related to childhood obesity, one of the most pressing public health concerns in the U.S.

In the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, investigators showed that EHR data analysis is a promising, cost-effective way to identify childhood obesity rates for the purposes of public surveillance, health promotion, and tracking intervention effectiveness.

Key findings:

  • Disparities in childhood obesity rates are evident in children as young as two to five years old.
  • The association between economic hardship and childhood obesity is significant among non-Hispanic white children.
  • The effects of economic hardship on obesity are amplified in older children, regardless of race or ethnicity.

Notably, they found that racial and ethnic disparities in childhood obesity rates were evident in children as young as two to five years old—a finding that underscores the need for early intervention for at-risk children.

In Pediatric Obesity, investigators found that childhood obesity rates were positively associated with the economic hardship index (EHI), a composite measure of community-level low socioeconomic status.

More specifically, they found that the association between economic hardship and childhood obesity was significant among non-Hispanic white children (Hispanic and non-Hispanic black children had high obesity rates across all EHI levels). They also found that the effects of economic hardship on obesity were amplified in older children, regardless of race or ethnicity.

“Electronic health records provide powerful population health data that, when viewed in the context of communities, can represent health events happening across Wisconsin and at the local level,” explained DFM Research Director Lawrence Hanrahan, PhD, MS, an author on both papers. “This research strives to harness EHR data to improve patient care and community health.”


The PHINEX database is a collaboration between the UW Departments of Family Medicine, the UW Department of Pediatrics, and the UW Department of Medicine.

Published: April 2015

2016-11-16T07:58:29+00:00