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Marylyn Ritchie, PhD, senior investigator and director of Biomedical and Translational Informatics, isn’t content to know that Geisinger is treating 40,000 people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Rather, she believes that this number has the potential to tell a far more interesting story — one about relationships.

COPD and its relationship to other diseases is the focus of Dr. Ritchie’s latest grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Health. “We know that patients with COPD present with different symptoms,” shares Dr. Ritchie. “What if we’re not looking at one straightforward diagnosis, but one that is directly related to a second existing condition?”

Together with her team, Dr. Ritchie is analyzing the records of patients in Geisinger’s electronic health record to determine what other commonalities exist among those with COPD. The results have been compelling.

“We’ve taken these thousands of patients and discovered that they can be categorized into between four and six clusters,” explains Dr. Ritchie. “About six of these clusters represent people with a common second disease such as depression or high cholesterol.”

Of interest to Dr. Ritchie are people who have cardio/metabolic disease and COPD. “There are two groups where this relationship exists,” she says. “From a clinical perspective, these people look very different from those who just have COPD.”

The next step in this process, she says, will be to determine if patients respond to treatments differently based upon this secondary diagnosis. “My hunch is that we will need to better tailor our treatments for patients with a COPD diagnosis based upon these findings,” she says.

In the future, Dr. Ritchie will be applying this predictive model to other conditions, including diabetes, polycystic ovarian syndrome and heart failure.
COPD data
Marylyn Ritchie
Geisinger senior investigator and director of Biomedical and Translational Informatics Marylyn Ritchie, PhD