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PLoS One. 2009;4(4):e5203. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0005203. Epub 2009 Apr 13.

Exploring clinical associations using '-omics' based enrichment analyses.

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Department of Pediatrics, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan, United States of America.



The vast amounts of clinical data collected in electronic health records (EHR) is analogous to the data explosion from the "-omics" revolution. In the EHR clinicians often maintain patient-specific problem summary lists which are used to provide a concise overview of significant medical diagnoses. We hypothesized that by tapping into the collective wisdom generated by hundreds of physicians entering problems into the EHR we could detect significant associations among diagnoses that are not described in the literature.


We employed an analytic approach original developed for detecting associations between sets of gene expression data, called Molecular Concept Map (MCM), to find significant associations among the 1.5 million clinical problem summary list entries in 327,000 patients from our institution's EHR. An odds ratio (OR) and p-value was calculated for each association. A subset of the 750,000 associations found were explored using the MCM tool. Expected associations were confirmed and recently reported but poorly known associations were uncovered. Novel associations which may warrant further exploration were also found. Examples of expected associations included non-insulin dependent diabetes mellitus and various diagnoses such as retinopathy, hypertension, and coronary artery disease. A recently reported association included irritable bowel and vulvodynia (OR 2.9, p = 5.6x10(-4)). Associations that are currently unknown or very poorly known included those between granuloma annulare and osteoarthritis (OR 4.3, p = 1.1x10(-4)) and pyloric stenosis and ventricular septal defect (OR 12.1, p = 2.0x10(-3)).


Computer programs developed for analyses of "-omic" data can be successfully applied to the area of clinical medicine. The results of the analysis may be useful for hypothesis generation as well as supporting clinical care by reminding clinicians of likely problems associated with a patient's existing problems.

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