The Rochester Epidemiology Project funded by NIH’s National Institute on Aging is still going strong after almost 50 years. The project’s comprehensive medical records pool makes Olmsted County, Minnesota one of the few places in the world where scientists can study virtually an entire geographic population to identify trends in disease, evaluate treatments, and find factors that put people at risk for illnesses. The real value to researchers is to figure out the frequency of certain conditions such as heart disease and the true success of treatments.
The project began at Mayo Clinic long before computers existed. Mayo archived patient medical records believing they would someday be of value to researchers. In 1966, Mayo obtained NIH funding to link medical records from healthcare providers across the country including the Olmsted Medical Center and the Rochester Family Medicine Clinic. At that point, the Rochester Epidemiology Project was born and eventually the records were computerized.
As it nears the half century mark, the project is still growing. Healthcare providers in seven Southeastern Minnesota counties are adding patients’ records which have doubled the number of area residents included in the system. So far, the project has supported more than 2,000 studies with fewer than five percent of Olmsted County’s residents choosing to opt out.
The biggest change the Rochester Epidemiology Project is seeing mirrors the nation’s changing demographics. While individuals of Northern European descent have long made up most of Olmsted County’s population, a new wave of immigration now means that one in four children not in the project are not of European descent.
For more information, go to www.rochesterproject.org.