Many hospitals and medical practices are shifting from paper to computers, as they convert to electronic medical records. While the technology has been touted mainly as a way to cut costs and improve medical care, it turns out it has an unexpected side benefit: scientists can probe electronic medical records to find hidden connections between genes and diseases. This week in my “Matter” column for the New York Times, I look at this new tool for exploring to our DNA.
(Some readers have asked me about the issue of privacy and consent. When it comes to electronic medical records, these are very important issues–as illustrated by the shocking case of a Canadian woman who was barred by U.S. Homeland Security from entering the United States because they had looked at her medical records and found that she had been treated for depression. Ah yes, those depressed terrorists…Anyway, the researchers I write about, known as the eMERGE Network, do get consent for their research from patients and then go to great lengths to make the data anonymous. Details are here and here [pdf])