Electronic records to support $2.5M diabetes study at Palo Alto

Electronic health records in use at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation for nearly a decade will support a new $2.5 million diabetes research project focused on California's Asian population.

PAMF announced earlier this week it had received a $2.5 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to conduct a five-year study on diabetes and its risk factors among the six largest Asian ethnic groups in California - Asian Indians, Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese.

PAMF's EHR system gives researchers a unique resource to better understand variations in treatment for diabetes, identify best practices and recommend ways to improve care both inside and outside of the organization, PAMF officials say. In addition to reviewing existing medical records as part of the study, researchers will use the EHR system to select and follow a group of patients over more than a decade to study diabetes risk factors that may be unique to Asian Americans.

"By the end of the study, we hope to gain a much better understanding of what puts certain Asian ethnic minorities at greater risk for diabetes, one of the most costly and prevalent chronic health conditions," said Latha Palaniappan, MD, principal investigator for the study. "The study also holds substantial promise for clinicians and policymakers, as we will offer information and recommendations on how to identify and target high-risk Asian populations for diabetes prevention, treatment and management."

Diabetes occurs at significantly higher rates among blacks and Hispanics than among whites, said Palaniappan. Asians, although they consist of more than 30 ethnic groups from more than 20 countries of origin, have always been grouped together in previous diabetes studies and reports. Therefore, the prevalence of diabetes and related risk factors, such as obesity, remains largely unknown in specific Asian ethnic groups.

"In some of our preliminary studies, we've seen that certain Asian ethnic groups, such as Asian Indians and Filipinos, are at much higher risk for diabetes than others," said Palaniappan. "These findings reinforce the need to study Asian subgroups separately instead of grouping these diverse populations together. We're also hoping the study will have an international impact because we're studying racial/ethnic differences in how our bodies metabolize insulin and glucose in a similar environment."

The study, called the Pan Asian Cohort Study (PACS), will examine existing clinical records of more than 60,000 Asians in California for diabetes risk, the largest Asian-American group ever assembled for a study. The study will include examining the medical records, minus any personal identifiers, of PAMF patients.

"We want to assure patients that we will only have access to information in their health record that enables us to conduct this important study," said Palaniappan. "We are very careful to follow all Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) regulations and patient confidentiality guidelines."

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