10/14/2011: Epidemiological Studies in Multiple Countries and Ethnic Groups

As our globe is becoming increasingly interconnected, conducting epidemiology studies in multiple countries is becoming more important.  Furthermore, as many countries are experiencing increased population diversity (e.g., USA, Australia, Canada and UK), conducting studies across multi-ethnic populations is becoming ever more relevant. 
However, defining ‘ethnicity’ is not a simple matter because ethnicity not only concerns race, but is actually a form of social grouping based on cultural factors such as language, lifestyle, religion, food and ancestry.  Capturing ethnicity data is important for population health studies because factors such as diet, genetics, use of herbal medication or Eastern medical practices such as acupuncture, etc. influence health outcome.
When it comes to conducting epidemiology studies:
  • How can you access population health data from different countries?
  • What considerations do you have to take into account when comparing data across different regions?
  • What constitutes an ethnically distinct population?
  • What data on ethnicity are being collected in health databases?
The good news is that you do not have to wait too much longer to get some answers on these questions.  
The 6th Asian Conference on Pharmacoepidemiology (ACPE) will be held in Beijing, China from October 28-30 this year, and this might be a great opportunity to learn more about conducting studies in Asian and other populations.  The term "Asian" may actually have different meanings to different people around the world.  In general, “Asian” refers to people having origins in the Far East, Southeast Asia, or the Indian subcontinent (for example, Cambodia, China, India, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Pakistan, the Philippine Islands, Thailand, and Vietnam).  
Dr. Judith K. Jones (MD, PhD), an internationally recognized expert in the areas of adverse drug reactions and pharmacoepidemiology, will be attending the 3-day conference.  There, Dr. Jones will be talking about “Future Opportunities in Pharmacoepidemiology in Asia”.
Dr. Jones is also the Executive Director of the non-profit organization DGI, LLC, and Chief Editor of B.R.I.D.G.E. TO DATA® (www.bridgetodata.org), a subscription online directory describing epidemiologic and population health databases.  Currently, there are ~150 database and registry profiles from 22 countries, including some from China, Japan, India, South Korea, and Taiwan.  Each profile includes 75 data fields describing the database, population, coding systems, data on drugs/diagnoses/procedures, cost information, validation & linkage, and provides some administrative information, as well as a list of recent publications. 
B.R.I.D.G.E. TO DATA® can help researchers find and compare databases that cover populations from different regions of the world, as well as determine if data elements such as ethnicity, and other sociodemographic data are captured in a database of interest.  In order for ethnicity data to be of use in epidemiology studies, databases must collect that information consistently.  The profiles listed in BRIDGE describe the type of ethnicity data captured, and any issues involved in assessing ethnicity for a particular data source.  For example, in some countries such as France, collecting information on ethnicity is not acceptable, even for research purposes.  In other countries, it is particularly important to capture data on ethnic minority groups so that medical care is not overlooked in these underrepresented populations; however, sometimes sample weight adjustments are required.  Interestingly, in an effort to avoid detailing information on race, databases commonly record “spoken language of patient” as a surrogate for ethnicity.
If you plan on attending ACPE and would like to meet Dr. Jones and/or learn more about B.R.I.D.G.E. TO DATA®, then post a comment with your information or e-mail us at info@bridgetodata.org