Enhancing the collection of sociodemographic variables in a province-wide electronic health record

University of Calgary


An individual’s health is influenced by his or her social and economic circumstances. Those facing socioeconomic disadvantage, for example, often have worse health outcomes, resulting in health inequities. Despite the importance of knowing, studying, and acting on these sociodemographic variables, they are not routinely collected in a way that can be used for research and decision-making. As a result, it is difficult to identify patients with social barriers and needs, and to develop interventions to address health inequities. In Alberta, there is a single electronic health record (EHR) being implemented across the province. This presents a unique opportunity to optimize the collection of important sociodemographic variables for the entire province.

We will conduct a mixed methods evaluation to enhance the collection of sociodemographic variables that are at the root of health inequities. These variables include: gender, income/ financial strain, employment, occupation, education, primary language, and ethnicity. Our study has 2 phases. First, we will develop natural language processing techniques (a type of artificial intelligence) to see if the notes and documents created by doctors, nurses, and other healthcare providers in the EHR can be accurately mined for information about the sociodemographic variables. Second, we will conduct focus groups with patients, healthcare providers, and administrative stakeholders across the province to understand how these data might be used, the acceptability and feasibility of collecting these data, and how it can integrated into usual clinical workflow. These findings will have far-reaching implications that can inform the collection of sociodemographic data in other jurisdictions.

Roles and Responsibilities

We are looking for people who represent diverse sociodemographic characteristics as patient partners on this project. Given the unique perspectives that can be provided, we are looking for individuals who have previously been admitted to hospital, with any of following characteristics:

a) from rural Alberta
b) immigrated to Canada within the last 5-10 years
c) have ever faced difficulty meeting basic needs (housing, food, transportation, etc) or medical needs (e.g. inability to afford medications).

Being a patient partner could mean involvement at any, or all, stages of the project. This includes current grant application stage (to obtain funding for the study), advising on strategies to recruit people into the study, helping to facilitate focus groups, providing input on the interpretation of the results of the project, and helping to share the results.

Time Commitment

There will be a one time meeting early March 2022, prior to the grant application submission, to discuss the project and the role of the patient partner. If funded, the project will start approximately January 2023, and go for a total of 3.5 years. There will be a 1h meeting every 2-3 months with the study team to talk about the study, its progress and how to meet any challenges.


Patient partners will be offered a gift card of $50 for their essential contribution to each meeting. Patient partners will also be invited to join as co-authors on relevant publications stemming from this study.

For more information please connect with
Karen Tang

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University of Calgary Foothills Campus
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Land Acknowledgment

The Alberta SPOR SUPPORT Unit operates on and acknowledges the lands that are the traditional and ancestral territory of many peoples, presently subject to Treaties 6, 7, and 8. Namely: the Blackfoot Confederacy – Kainai, Piikani, and Siksika – the Cree, Dene, Saulteaux, Nakota Sioux, Stoney Nakoda, and the Tsuu T’ina Nation and the Métis People of Alberta. This includes the Métis Settlements and the Métis Nation of Alberta. We acknowledge the many First Nations, Métis and Inuit who have lived in and cared for these lands for generations. We make this acknowledgment as a reaffirmation of our shared commitment towards reconciliation, and as part of AbSPORU’s mandate towards fostering health system transformation.