Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Cataract research using electronic health records

Carol J Waudby1*, Richard L Berg2, James G Linneman2, Luke V Rasmussen2, Peggy L Peissig2, Lin Chen3 and Catherine A McCarty4

Author Affiliations

1 Center for Human Genetics, Marshfield Clinic Research Foundation, Marshfield, Wisconsin, USA

2 Biomedical Informatics Research Center, Marshfield Clinic Research Foundation, Marshfield, Wisconsin, USA

3 Department of Ophthalmology, Marshfield Clinic - Minocqua Center, Minocqua Wisconsin, USA

4 Essentia Institute of Rural Health, Duluth, Minnesota, USA

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BMC Ophthalmology 2011, 11:32  doi:10.1186/1471-2415-11-32

Published: 11 November 2011



The eMERGE (electronic MEdical Records and Genomics) network, funded by the National Human Genome Research Institute, is a national consortium formed to develop, disseminate, and apply approaches to research that combine DNA biorepositories with electronic health record (EHR) systems for large-scale, high-throughput genetic research. Marshfield Clinic is one of five sites in the eMERGE network and primarily studied: 1) age-related cataract and 2) HDL-cholesterol levels. The purpose of this paper is to describe the approach to electronic evaluation of the epidemiology of cataract using the EHR for a large biobank and to assess previously identified epidemiologic risk factors in cases identified by electronic algorithms.


Electronic algorithms were used to select individuals with cataracts in the Personalized Medicine Research Project database. These were analyzed for cataract prevalence, age at cataract, and previously identified risk factors.


Cataract diagnoses and surgeries, though not type of cataract, were successfully identified using electronic algorithms. Age specific prevalence of both cataract (22% compared to 17.2%) and cataract surgery (11% compared to 5.1%) were higher when compared to the Eye Diseases Prevalence Research Group. The risk factors of age, gender, diabetes, and steroid use were confirmed.


Using electronic health records can be a viable and efficient tool to identify cataracts for research. However, using retrospective data from this source can be confounded by historical limits on data availability, differences in the utilization of healthcare, and changes in exposures over time.

Cataract; prevalence; risk factors; epidemiology; electronic health record