Electronic Records Could Help Solve the Laminitis Mystery
Thanks to technology, with a few clicks of a button you can now find directions to the nearest coffee shop, get a rundown of the day’s celebrity sightings, and book a flight or shop for groceries. But one research team thinks electronic technology might have another use, one that could benefit our horses and expand the collective knowledge about one of the most feared horse health concerns: laminitis.

“We still have a lot to learn about why some horses suffer the disease and others do not,” said Claire E. Welsh, BVMS, MSc(VetSci), AHEA, PhD, MRCVS, a medical statistician at the University of Glasgow, in Scotland. She believes searching through and evaluating electronic medical records could be key to finding the answers.

Welsh said electronic medical records from first opinion equine veterinary practices (not referral hospitals, but primary practitioners seeing horses in the field) could offer new insight into laminitis and its associated risk factors. In human medicine, electronic medical records are used regularly for research, but widespread use is still relatively new in veterinary medicine.

Veterinary practices across the world are collecting and archiving electronic medical records every day. “This data source contains huge amounts of useful information on millions of horses that represents an untapped resource for research that can be used as soon as it is acquired,” she said.

Welsh acknowledged these records are not a perfect resource. To be useful, she said, accurate, detailed notes must be entered into the system.

“Veterinarians vary in how much detail they enter into medical records and in the language and abbreviations used to describe the same conditions and treatments,” she said.

Additionally, she said, “mining the data to detect diseases and treatments relies on very careful and painstaking work to identify all the possible ways the disease has been recorded, and only then can analysis of the risk factors begin.”

Despite the challenges, Welsh said she sees electronic medical records as a promising method for studying disease. For instance, in a recent study of clinical and pharmacologic risk factors for laminitis, she and colleagues examined electronic medical records from seven U.K. veterinary practices. From that data mining, the team determined that:

  • More than 70% of horses diagnosed with laminitis suffered at least one recurrence;
  • Risk factors for first and subsequent laminitis episodes varied; and
  • Prednisolone (a corticosteroid) use was significantly associated only with subsequent, and not initial, laminitis episodes.

Moving forward, she said, “the next steps are replication of our work in different populations to lend further confidence in our findings and implementation of the findings into practice, to hopefully reduce the number of horses suffering this painful disease.”

The study, “Disease and pharmacologic risk factors for first and subsequent episodes of equine laminitis: A cohort study of free-text electronic medical records,” was published in Preventative Veterinary Medicine.