EHR analytics improve off-label drug use tracking

While physicians have a variety of tools at their disposal to treat the myriad conditions they see each day, sometimes they prescribe drugs against the explicit meaning behind their development. Known as "off-label" drug use, doctors have been prescribing drugs for years against the recommendations of their labeling – often with successful results.

Up until now, however, it has been almost impossible to track doctors' novel use of drugs to treat conditions they were not developed for, but a recent study by Stanford University researchers who used electronic medical records to track patients' conditions and the non-standard medications prescribed to treat them may provide a new use for the constantly evolving electronic health record technology.

A new source of data
While off-label drug use may seem reckless, the study from the Stanford University School of Medicine explained that, due to the long and esoteric drug development process, pharmaceutical companies are often forced to shoehorn their products into a specific use rather than a general one. In fact, 21 percent of all prescriptions made by U.S. doctors are for drugs intended for off-label use.

Potential issues arise when only 27 percent of those prescriptions are supported by established science. In order to uncover either novel uses that the medical community at-large is not aware of, or to stop irresponsible prescriptions that could harm patients, Nigam Shah, Ph.D., used a program to analyze clinical data stored in EHR systems. By combining patient conditions, outcomes and prescriptions, Shah and his team compiled a list of 403 off-label drug uses.

The clinical value of these applications is still being evaluated, but Shah believed that his use of EHR systems may benefit physicians and pharmaceutical companies alike.

"The combination of electronic health records and molecular evidence can make a stronger argument for agencies to fund clinical trials," Shah told Stanford University.

Speeding up drug development
Shah's support would be welcomed by the pharmaceutical community, which currently develops its products through a laborious process. Health IT Analytics reported that it takes the average drug twelve years to go from initial conception to market availability. That development cycle also carries with it a $4 billion price tag per drug.

With that many resources being pooled into the production of a single product, pharmaceutical corporations could use Shah's study to predict what other uses their products could have. A multi-purpose drug may draw more attention and benefit from quicker development, which would then help more patients.