One of the benefits of electronic health records is the ability to collect patient data and note any trends that may portend further health complications. For example, one team of scientists from the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research recently demonstrated how data points culled from the EHRs of individuals diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes can help predict who is most at risk of developing dementia, as reported by KQED Public Radio.
For years, doctors have been aware that Type 2 diabetes patients have a high risk of dementia. It is not entirely clear why this link exists, although some have suggested that damage to the brain's blood vessels caused by diabetes is a possible explanation.
In any case, scientists from Kaiser Permanente decided to test an analytical model for its ability to predict dementia among Type 2 diabetes patients. For the study, the researchers followed nearly 30,000 subjects, all of whom were 60 years of age or older. The participants' EHRs provided researchers with information on general health, complications, blood sugar levels and other factors, which informed a 20-point "risk-score." The accumulation of more points corresponded to a higher risk-score.
Results showed that eight factors – including vascular complications, wide fluctuations in blood sugar levels, age, education and depression – were strong predictors of the risk of developing dementia within 10 years. Those with the lowest scores had a 5.3 percent risk of dementia during the next decade. For those with the highest scores, that figure was 73.3 percent.
"If we can predict future risk, we then know who to focus on, who to follow more, who to spend [extra] time making sure they are taking care of themselves in terms of their type 2 diabetes," researcher Rachel Whitmer told the news source.
Not only does dementia hurt patients' quality of life, it is also expensive. Experts from the Alzheimer's Association estimated that the per-person Medicare costs for patients with Alzheimer's disease or other form of dementia are about three times higher than those for individuals who do not have these illnesses.