Using your electronic medical record for research: a primer for avoiding pitfalls

Fam Pract. 2010 Feb;27(1):121-6. doi: 10.1093/fampra/cmp068. Epub 2009 Oct 14.


In Canada, use of electronic medical records (EMRs) among primary health care (PHC) providers is relatively low. However, it appears that EMRs will eventually become more ubiquitous in PHC. This represents an important development in the use of health care information technology as well as a potential new source of PHC data for research. However, care in the use of EMR data is required. Four years ago, researchers at the Centre for Studies in Family Medicine, The University of Western Ontario created an EMR-based research project, called Deliver Primary Health Care Information. Implementing this project led us to two conclusions about using PHC EMR data for research: first, additional time is required for providers to undertake EMR training and to standardize the way data are entered into the EMR and second, EMRs are designed for clinical care, not research. Based on these experiences, we offer our thoughts about how EMRs may, nonetheless, be used for research. Family physician researchers who intend to use EMR data to answer timely questions relevant to practice should evaluate the possible impact of the four questions raised by this paper: (i) why are EMR data different?; (ii) how do you extract data from an EMR?; (iii) where are the data stored? and (iv) what is the data quality? In addition, consideration needs to be given to the complexity of the research question since this can have an impact on how easily issues of using EMR data for research can be overcome.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Electronic Health Records*
  • Guidelines as Topic
  • Health Services Research* / organization & administration
  • Ontario
  • Primary Health Care