Population Physiology: Leveraging Electronic Health Record Data to Understand Human Endocrine Dynamics


Studying physiology and pathophysiology over a broad population for long periods of time is difficult primarily because collecting human physiologic data can be intrusive, dangerous, and expensive. One solution is to use data that have been collected for a different purpose. Electronic health record (EHR) data promise to support the development and testing of mechanistic physiologic models on diverse populations and allow correlation with clinical outcomes, but limitations in the data have thus far thwarted such use. For example, using uncontrolled population-scale EHR data to verify the outcome of time dependent behavior of mechanistic, constructive models can be difficult because: (i) aggregation of the population can obscure or generate a signal, (ii) there is often no control population with a well understood health state, and (iii) diversity in how the population is measured can make the data difficult to fit into conventional analysis techniques. This paper shows that it is possible to use EHR data to test a physiological model for a population and over long time scales. Specifically, a methodology is developed and demonstrated for testing a mechanistic, time-dependent, physiological model of serum glucose dynamics with uncontrolled, population-scale, physiological patient data extracted from an EHR repository. It is shown that there is no observable daily variation the normalized mean glucose for any EHR subpopulations. In contrast, a derived value, daily variation in nonlinear correlation quantified by the time-delayed mutual information (TDMI), did reveal the intuitively expected diurnal variation in glucose levels amongst a random population of humans. Moreover, in a population of continuously (tube) fed patients, there was no observable TDMI-based diurnal signal. These TDMI-based signals, via a glucose insulin model, were then connected with human feeding patterns. In particular, a constructive physiological model was shown to correctly predict the difference between the general uncontrolled population and a subpopulation whose feeding was controlled.


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