The cost for collection and processing of data is a significant part of the budget for a typical medical research project. Use of data that is already being collected for other purposes provides opportunities to improve the quality of the available data, reduce the cost of obtaining it, and minimize the time required to get it to the analysts. Here’s where an EHR system can help.
As an example, a research project wants to track the use and effectiveness of a new medicine to manage a particular illness over a period of five years. Let’s call that illness Alpha. Today, research is pretty much limited to people already diagnosed with Alph unless the sample size is very large. With access to an EHR that has a large enough database, three types of patients can be tracked for the study.
The EHR can be used to find 1,000 patients who have the disease. They can be given the new medicine and tracked over the next five years using data from their EHR that is being collected as a routine part of visits to their doctor. Extra blood tests or other procedures may be required with a new medication. Reminders to the doctor can be included in the EHR and the results will then be tracked like any other data. The extra cost of obtaining and delivering the data will be relatively low.
A sub-project can be designed to get some of these patients to participate in additional research such as development of family histories of Alpha, or genetic testing. Recruiting patients for additional test through their doctors will be less costly than most of today’s means of obtaining this type of data.
The EHR can be used to find 1,000 patients who have Alpha, are demographically very similar to the first set of patients and are not part of the test of the medication. Data from their EHRs can be used to provide a baseline against which to assess changes among the patients who are taking the medicine. Again, the extra cost of obtaining and delivering the routine data will be relatively low.
The EHR can also be used to find newly diagnosed cases of Alpha over the course of the five years of the study. Newly diagnosed patients of the doctors with patients already in the study can be given the medicine and then tracked to see how effective it is if administered early. Newly diagnosed patients of doctors who are not in the study (and presumably are not aware of the medicine) can be found and tracked to provide a dynamic baseline for early use of the medicine. There would be no extra cost to obtain the data; it is already in patient EHRs. The cost of a wider search of the database to find these cases could be noteworthy but significantly less than any other way to build a baseline of newly diagnosed patients.
There is one other piece to a complete solution and that is access to a large enough number of electronic health records to find a limited number of cases. There are a number of organizations including the VA, Kaiser, and vendors of hospital systems that have large databases. There are also physician office systems like Practice Fusion that are database driven and can quickly draw information from millions of patient records today over a much more diverse demographic (location, age, and socioeconomic status).
A research project based on EHRs will have data collected by nurses and doctors who are trained to collect health related data to assure quality. Data can be delivered to the research team in a matter of days; the interim and final research results will be available for use substantially faster than is possible with most of today’s data collection methods. When an EHR is an integral part of the research project the result is better data at lower cost faster.
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