High quality data enables medical research

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Although our focus on the epidemic has now subsided, our health data quality problems remain. We’re swimming in health data—by some estimates, one-third of the world’s data is related to health and healthcare, and that amount is increasing by more than 30% each year.

With all that information, why can’t we answer some of the most pressing religious questions? Which of the five main diabetes medications (if any) will work for me? Will back surgery be more effective for my spine than physical therapy? What are the chances that I will need chemotherapy in addition to radiation to remove my tumor?

EHRs have become ubiquitous

Electronic health records (EHRs) have proliferated in the US, thanks in large part to a multibillion-dollar federal initiative that made compatible EHRs a national goal. In the year In addition to improved patient care, millions of digital health records create opportunities to transform medical research.

“Before EHRs, clinical research was all on paper,” says Dale Sanders, chief strategy officer of Intelligent Medical Objects (IMO), a healthcare information technology company that provides clinical terminology and tools to improve the quality of medical information. “You transfer that paper-based data into spreadsheets and do your own data analysis in a very small geographic area. It doesn’t provide a broad view of a patient’s life, and it certainly doesn’t enable any broad population analysis.”

In theory, EHRs will enable the collection, analysis, and search of data collected from millions of patients to discover patterns at a small scale, and to systematically track a patient’s health over time. Imagine being able to quickly compare and analyze thousands of people with a particular rare disease, or follow users of a particular drug over a period of time to observe long-term side effects that are unclear in trials.

Of course, it’s not that simple. “There is a lot of raw data. [in EHRs] John Lee, MD, an emergency physician and clinical informatics specialist who has served as chief medical information officer for several health systems, explains. “Some of them are not accurate, and the ones that are accurate are not packaged in a usable and scalable way. If we can get out of our own way, we have an opportunity on our hands.

Sanders agreed. “Covid has made us all realize that the data we collect with EHRs is not very good for clinical research or responding to pandemics and public health challenges. It is time to improve the ways we use them.

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This content was produced by Insights, the custom content arm of MIT Technology Review. It is not written by the MIT Technology Review editorial staff.

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