At first sight, the hand held tablets and screens hosted on nurse tables and held dearly to the palms of able clinical staff, may appear to be incongruous with the functional obligations of their owners and you could be forgiven to mistake them for Apple’s new iPad.

Yet, it is not an uncommon sight, to find them as reverential backpacks and requisite arsenal in the hands of medical personnel, almost akin to the ubiquitous mobile phone. Electronic health records or EHRs as they are widely known across the medical community have largely served as useful substitutes of patient case pads and potentially replaced enormous paperwork with electronic file cabinets that could store a humungous amount of history around a patient.

Developed during the last decade and popularized by a host of healthcare reforms and the diffusion of information technology in the healthcare space, these hand held screens have been the fundamental drivers and trailblazers of information technology adoption in the healthcare scenario. Until recently, a majority of the electronic health record systems have been a part of the larger hospital infrastructure with little demonstrated potential to drive forth a revolution of sorts in accelerating patient care in the actual sense.

The hardware and software behemoths of the world have consistently hailed these inventions as a force to reckon with in transforming healthcare. However, the current utility of these high end technology marvels has been closely concerned with improving the operational efficiency of the staff and clinicians and little with accelerating patient care through innovation of customized therapeutic solutions. While think tanks and research labs nestled in the temples of academic and business excellence, have been striving at expanding the scope of the now banal EHR system, there has been little evidence to demonstrate potential proof points that could have a beneficial impact on the ultimate goal of medical practice-that of bringing back patients to the pink of health.

Focused heavily around this critical challenge and creating a disruptive potential for electronic health records, a research group based in Denmark has developed an innovative system to double up electronic health records as an information resource to unearth potential molecular interactions that while being unique to the disease signature o the patient, could also find applications in accelerating discovery research and developing customized therapeutic approaches.

Considering that Electronic Health Records potentially demonstrate the capacity to hold a wide array of medical data across various parameters of diagnosis; the research group embarked on a systematic ontology based study to extract the data pertaining to over 5000 psychiatry patient records from the existing systems. The data extraction process was carried out in a codified manner that enabled efficient mapping of the disease specific data with the coding dictionary of the International Classification of Diseases-10 (ICD-10) registry, which enabled the isolation of patient specific disease information subsets across the sample.

Interestingly, the mined information pointed to interesting gene disease associations on the popular genetic database, OMIM; wherein the ICD-10 disease classification codes matched with the patient disease codes extracted from the EHR. However, in order to do so, the codified mapping, enabled the team to group patients with similar physical symptomatic descriptions with the information corroborated in the ICD-10 report. The identification of the patient clusters potentially enabled the teams to narrow down on 93 disease candidates wherein genes and proteins demonstrating common interaction patterns across a cohort of diseases were fundamentally identified to construct a disease based gene and protein interaction network The technique of employing a codified disease mapping strategy with classical registries through the process of ontology mapping owes much to the general architecture of Electronic Health Records per se.

The electronic health record systems, owing to their scalable information focus and fundamental architecture have been suitably exploited as an invaluable support system towards disease classification, patient surveillance, medication information extraction, identifying individuals for clinical trials and so on, thereby opening a floodgate of opportunity. The study published in the August 2011 issue of PLoS computational biology, offers a simplistic and all pervasive means of applying simple ontology extraction methodologies to define and craft molecular interaction networks , to render a systems approach to therapeutics. However, the potential interaction mapping application, cannot be sufficiently considered as a holy grail in the process of interaction mapping.

The complexity of genetic and proteomic interactions, potentially limit the coverage of disease codes expressed in the ICD-10. Further, the lack of a robust validation mechanism, that largely depends on manual curation, opens up a wide margin for error in the corroboration of a molecular network. As it were, Hewlett Packard has emerged as a pioneer in the process of enhancing the utility of Electronic Health Records. The collaboration with Partners Healthcare and the development of the GIGPAD collaborative software, offers a suitable platform to connect with Electronic Health Records and fetch critical disease specific information. However, the ability to draw connections between unknown genes and known proteins , towards assessing the probability of you catching a cold in the next 1 week, still remains a matter that could only be resolved perhaps by the Denmark innovation with a dash of HP’s information technology expertise