Researchers at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit are studying injury-related and other information gathered electronically from last year's Detroit Free Press Marathon in preparation for this year's race in October. The goal of the race's organizers is to better position medical staff and other services that help runners along the 26.2-mile route. The experiment also serves as a petri dish for studying the value of electronic healthcare records (EHRs).

Henry Ford Hospital's plan was twofold. First, they offered runners the opportunity to enter medical information prior to the race in order to expedite any treatment needed during the race. Medics also entered complaint, exam, treatment and disposition data on race day that the researchers hope to use to identify trends in injury patterns and, as such, improve the preparation for future mass participation events.

Michigan's Medical Biodefense Network created the online forms that the runners filled out via the Web. All patient information was stored on a server, with patient confidentiality maintained by having records reflect the runners' race bib numbers or unique identifiers generated by the software. During the marathon, medical providers received military-grade mobile laptop computers equipped with cellular data cards at first aid stations and at the main medical coordination center. Fourteen doctors and more than 60 health workers staffed last year's marathon.

Marathon organizers estimated that about 100 runners were treated by doctors during the race and that six x-rays were done on site, according to CNN. An International Broadcasting Systems Web site, however, reported that a total of 220 medical incidents were treated at the event. Unfortunately, despite the extra effort to provide medical services for the marathoners, three runners died during the 2009 race. Such tragedies are not common despite the grueling nature of the competition.

EHRs have received a lot of attention over the past year thanks to the Obama administration's commitment of $19 billion in stimulus funds to encourage hospitals and health care facilities to digitize patient data and make better use of information technology.

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