Big Data: Transforming Medicine
Richard Birtwhistle is a professor in the Queen’s Department of Family Medicine and Public Health Sciences, the director of the university’s Centre for Studies in Primary Care, and the chair and principal investigator of the Canadian Primary Care Sentinel Surveillance Network (CPCSSN). The network collects patient information stored in electronic medical records (EMR) of primary care practitioners across Canada. Using complex algorithms, CPCSSN brings the data from these different EMR systems together into a consistent format. This enables researchers to use those data to answer questions about the incidence and treatment of diabetes, hypertension, depression, chronic obstructive lung disease, osteoarthritis and other chronic diseases that Canadian family physicians commonly deal with.
Launched in 2008, with funding from the Public Health Agency of Canada, CPCSSN now consists of more than 800 primary care practitioners – or “sentinels” – in seven provinces and one territory and the de-identified records of almost one million patients across Canada. Each doctor uses an EMR to record their clinical care of patients by inputting information such as body weight, blood pressure, body mass index, health conditions, referrals, risk factors for disease, lab investigations and any prescribed medications. Before any of this information is uploaded to CPCSSN, each patient is assigned a unique CPCSSN number that links them with their personal information, but this information does not leave the practice. Therefore, any data actually used for research remains anonymous.
The type of information collected in EMRs is difficult to get from other data sources (such as the Canada Health Survey), which is why a centralized repository holds such great potential for researchers and makers of health policy. The data are also useful to the network’s family doctors. Remarkably, although EMRs contain loads of information about individual patients, most systems don’t provide physicians with reports that shed light on all their patients as a group. The CPCSSN database provides this capability, thus allowing the doctors to track their patients better and provide better, more personalized care. This, by itself, is enormously useful.
“We have a system where doctors can find out how many people with out-of-control diabetes haven’t been seen in the last six months, then go back and link the CPCSSN numbers with the patients’ IDs and then contact them and get them into the clinic,” says Birtwhistle. “From a quality improvement point of view, it’s actually pretty important.”
Birtwhistle says EMR data that CPCSSN has collected is a gold mine for researchers seeking to learn more about chronic disease in primary care in Canada. Much of the data remain untapped. But CPCSSN’s greatest value may ultimately stem from enabling the data to be linked with other types of medical data, he says.
“Linking patients’ primary care data to genomic data, for example, could open up tremendous potential for understanding not only chronic diseases, but other diseases as well.”
(e)Affect Issue 7 Spring 2015
Drawn to the notion that simple logic and numbers can facilitate our understanding of people, ideas, and events
MSc specializing in biostatistics candidate Andrew Dabbikeh has always had an interest in statistics and the cross over it has with biology. “I am drawn to the notion that simple logic and numbers can facilitate our understanding of people, ideas, and events,” he says. “I am fascinated by the collection and analysis of data to understand and discover past phenomena, which can be used to predict future events. Along with statistics, biology had been an interest of mine since my childhood. This interest spreads across multiple fields of biology, ranging from genetics to physiology to ecology.”
Randall Boyes successfully defends his MSc thesis
Breaking the silence
Published on Queen's Gazette website, Monday, June 29, 2015
Bell Let’s Talk and Queen’s University hosted the third annual Breaking the Silence lecture on June 25 at the Neptune Theatre in Halifax. The event aimed to raise awareness about mental health and reduce the stigma associated with mental illness.
This year’s lecture featured Heather Stuart, the Bell Mental Health and Anti-Stigma Research Chair in the Faculty of Health Sciences, and Marthe Bernard, best known for her role on CBC’s Republic of Doyle. Entertainer Mary Walsh served as the master of ceremonies for the event.
The Bell Mental Health and
PhD in Epidemiology student makes the most of Mitacs Global Link opportunity
Afshin Vafaei’s (PhD in epidemiology candidate) research question is a seemingly simple one: Are ‘levels of social cohesion and the quality of interpersonal relationships’ determinants of injury. Afshin is examining the relationship between two vulnerable populations: adolescents and older adults.
While completing his PhD research, under the supervision of Drs. Beatriz Alvarado and Will Pickett, Afshin has always believed that “despite the universality of epidemiological methods and analytic approaches, the interpretation of impacts of socially constructed exposures can be very complex and vary across different cultures”. When Dr. Alvarado informed Afshin of the Mitacs Globallink opportunity he jumped at the chance to travel to Brazil to enhance his understanding of the aging processes from an international perspective.
The Mitacs Globalink Research Award provides the opportunity for faculty at Canadian universities to strengthen existing international research collaborations and connect with colleagues around the world through the mobility of senior undergraduate and graduate students. Student recipients of the Globallink Research Award will develop research skills, cultural fluency and professional network, becoming part of Canada’s generation of global innovators.
Under the guidance of Dr. Guerra, a Professor in the Department of Physiotherapy at the Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Norte (UFRN) Natal, Brazil, Afshin was able to learn how international researchers look at the aging-related mobility issues. The comments Afshin received from the UFRN faculty were valuable and will be used in the discussion section of his dissertation. During his visit Afshin was also invited to teach a crash course on health research methodology. During his stay in Brazil, Afshin also took part in the 7th Congress of Latin American and Caribbean Association of Geriatrics and Gerontology in Belem.
MSc candidate carries out fieldwork in Kilimanjaro
Erica Erwin (MSc ’16) is working on her Master fieldwork in the Kilimanjaro region of Tanzania. Her research focus uses mobile health (mHealth) strategies to increase uptake of cervical cancer screening in low resource settings.
Erica is conducting a pilot study on behaviour-change research that uses educational messages and travel vouchers (both delivered via text message) to increase screening uptake. This is building on the work of two of the Department’s former MSc students, Emily Skastins and Melissa Cunningham, who previously studied the barriers to cervical cancer screening and HPV vaccines in the region. The pilot study is being run under the supervision of Dr. Karen Yeates and Dr. Kristan Aronson. It builds an innovative and effective method of screening for cervical cancer developed by Dr. Yeates requiring a trained non-physician healthcare worker, a mobile phone camera and text messaging.
As well as conducting her research, Erica has already camped at a lake situated in a crater, and in the very near future, she plans to visit coffee plantations and waterfalls in the surrounding area and to set out on a safari. She will also have the opportunity to participate in a medical caravan providing health services to remote locations.
Jonathan Kwong successfully defends his MSc thesis
Department of Public Health Sciences thanks Empire Life
Department represented at the 22nd International Symposium on Shiftwork and Working Time in Denmark
MSc candidate Jill Korsiak and her supervisor Kristan Aronson recently attended the 22nd International Symposium on Shiftwork and Working Time in the city Elsinore, which is approximately 30 kilometers north of Copenhagen, Denmark.
The scope of the symposium was to address challenges and solutions for healthy working hours. The symposium embraced the organization of optimal designs of working schedules considering biological mechanisms that compromise health such as restitution and sleep as well as personal preferences for social life.