Karen Tu

Associate Professor,
Family & Community Medicine

The challenge, the discovery, and the feeling of doing something for the greater good is what makes Karen Tu excited about the work she is doing. She is an expert in collection and interpretation of primary care electronic medical records and other “big” health care data. In her role of senior scientist at the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences, she explores how electronic medical records can be used to improve care and outcomes for the patients.

Tu believes that a greater focus on the use of medical records analysis can help tackle the problem of childhood malnutrition and obesity in two ways. Firstly, analysis of the available data can identify patients who are predisposed to malnutrition and obesity and are likely to develop other long-term health problems such as diabetes or heart disease. This knowledge will allow physicians and other health care providers to focus on the prevention of these conditions for at-risk patients before treatment is necessary.

In addition, analysis of medical data can provide insights into how effective different programs and policies that target malnutrition and obesity really are. For example, Tu looks to partner with Public Health Ontario in a future study that would investigate the effectiveness of some of the provincial programs promoting exercise and fighting obesity in our children.

“Children do not get outside and exercise enough with so much technology in our homes. It is troubling, as childhood obesity often leads to long-term health concerns,” says Tu, who was recently part of a research project focusing on the prevalence of obesity in children. The study demonstrated the utility of EMR records in investigating this problem and found that obesity rates were significantly higher in one to four year olds, compared to children under one, and in 10-14 year olds, compared to five to nine year olds, especially among boys.

Being part of the Lawson Centre’s network of researchers allows Tu to bring more data to include in the large electronic medical records database she oversees. This bank of data, called the Electronic Medical Record Administrative data Linked Database (EMRALD), collects clinical information from family physicians and their patients across Ontario. Its goal is to make the health-care system in Ontario more effective and efficient, such as improving doctors’ quality of care and understanding the trajectories of medical conditions and diseases.

When it comes to medical education, Tu thinks that childhood nutrition and health could be given a more prominent role in the training of undergraduate medical students. “There are not too many students who have strong background knowledge of issues related to nutrition and the health of children, so it is important to provide them with tools to bring these issues up with patients and know how to deal with them.”

At a glance:

Karen Tu, MD, MSc

Research Interests

  • Electronic medical records
  • Chronic disease management in primary care
  • Quality indicators in primary care
  • Administrative data validation for identifying disease conditions and hypertension


  • Associate Professor, Department of Family & Community Medicine, University of Toronto
  • Senior Scientist, Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences
  • Family Physician, Toronto Western Hospital


See Karen’s profile on the Department of Family & Community Medicine website for more information.