In 2012, Rochester Epidemiology Project (REP) co-directors Walter Rocca, M.D., Mayo Clinic; and Barbara Yawn, M.D., Olmsted Medical Center; and their colleagues, published a paper describing the generalizability of epidemiological findings from one population to others.
Their premise - health and health care information derived from the largely ethnically homogeneous population in Olmsted County, Minnesota, and more recently in the 27 counties that comprise the REP, can indeed impact our ability to provide better care – regionally, nationally and beyond.
“We suffer from the Lake Wobegon effect,” laments Dr. Rocca. “People say, ‘ah yes, Minnesota, the place where all women are strong, all men are good looking, all children are above average, and you have a lot of cornfields – but what could you possibly tell me about my much more diverse population?’”
The REP team found that there were limitations – as there would be with any data source. “Epidemiological findings from any single population are best used when compared with findings from other populations in the United States or worldwide to investigate geographic similarities or differences in disease patterns.…[However,] in the absence of more general data, findings from these single populations can be used to guide our decisions in clinical practice or in public health,” said the authors.
“This unique national resource is unmatched in our country in terms of the depth and breadth of information about a single population,” says Dr. Rocca, “And it does not have a lot of international equivalents either.”
The REP has led to more than 2,600 publications, looking at where, when, and how often various diseases occur; and finding causes and possible ways to prevent diseases.
“The Rochester Epidemiology Project allows us to answer questions that cannot be answered anywhere else,” says Dr. Rocca. “Without the foresight and collegial nature of the health care providers in Olmsted County 50 years ago, we never would be able to do what we do today – or to discover something new tomorrow.”
Over the years, the REP has added to our understanding of:
“50 years is just the beginning,” says Dr. Rocca. “We will continue to build our understanding of diseases, health behaviors and environmental contributors, and their impact on future health status. With this information, we can then look for ways to prevent or change the course of diseases, and hopefully one day, eradicate them.”
The REP is administratively managed at Mayo Clinic, and is supported by the National Institutes of Health, as well as the Mayo Clinic Robert D. and Patricia E. Kern Center for the Science of Health Care Delivery. For more information on the Rochester Epidemiology Project, visit the website.
Attn: Rochester Epidemiology Project
PO Box 115
Rochester, MN 55903