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Potential for electronic health records and online social networking to redefine medical research.

Abstract

Recent legislation in the US requires that all medical records become electronic over the next decade. In addition, ongoing developments in patient-oriented care, most notably with the advent of health social networking and personal health records, provide a plethora of new information sources for research.

The future confluence of health information technologies will enable researchers and clinicians to reveal novel therapies and insights into treatments and disease management, as well as environmental and genomic interactions, at an unprecedented population scale.

Electronic health records (EHRs) show great potential for use in observational studies to examine drug safety via pharmacovigiliance methods that can find adverse drug events as well as expand drug safety profiles. EHRs also show promise for head-to-head comparative effectiveness trials and could play a critical role in secondary and tertiary diabetes prevention efforts. A growing subset of EHRs, personal health records (PHRs), opens up the possibility of engaging patients in their care, as well as new opportunities for participatory research and personalized medicine. Organizations nationwide, from providers to employers, are already investing heavily in PHR systems. Additionally, the explosive use of online social networking sites and mobile technologies will undoubtedly play a role in future research efforts by making available a veritable flood of information, such as real-time exercise monitoring, to health researchers.

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