Will Electronic Health Records Help Medical Research?

Electronic Health RecordsWith the new federal regulations, medical centers and hospitals around the United States have been converting their data to electronic medical records for the past couple of years. Even though the digital health records haven’t really reduced medical bills or improved patient care, using the extensive databases of medical information could reduce the expenses of clinical trials. Zintro experts discuss whether analyzing the vast amounts of clinical information entered into electronic health records could contribute to medical research.

Scott Bork, an expert in healthcare and hospital management, mentions the frustration the EMR has brought and the unforeseen problems it has created but he still thinks that there are tremendous possibilities in the future for advancing medical research. “The extensive data gathering capability creates unlimited potential and direct access to information previously only captured through extensive manual processes. The addition of ICD-10 and the electronic capturing of very specific billing information provides incredible amount of detailed data that could be paired with the same patient’s medication regimen to reveal diagnosis related patterns, effectiveness of therapy, and trends across the country,” Bork explains. “Now we can compile, analyze, compare, manipulate and source very specific patient data from anywhere in the world an EMR exists. The future of the EMR in healthcare extends far beyond the main purpose of compiling chart data for specific visits.”

According to healthcare technology designer and consultant, Christian Lindmark, it is highly debatable whether hundreds of billions of dollars spent over the past five years implementing and upgrading to enhanced electronic health records, have made significant impacts in improving patient outcomes or reducing costs. “This is due to lack of standardization, interoperability issues and increases in hospital FTE costs to operate and maintain EHR systems. By having a data warehouse of patient records in the United States, as well as patient records in other countries around the world using EHR systems, providers will have the ability to quickly query and compare ailments their patients have versus what thousands, and potentially millions of other individuals have had,” Lindmark says. “This will save billions in unneeded medical appointments and treatments currently being administered to find the best cure for the ailment, as well as eliminate the duplicate medical appointments and treatments currently requested due to lost or missing paper records. Combining data warehousing, along with the optimistic outlook of nanotechnology, automated patient diagnosis will more accurately determine patient ailments and further reduce costs associated with unnecessary medical treatments.”

As public health policy consultant, Joel L. Nitzkin indicates, the impact of electronic medical record (EMR) systems on clinical research will depend entirely on the structure of privacy guidelines. “If investigators are limited to statistical summaries of depersonalized aggregate data, the EMR data will be of little value. If, however, the EMR data enables investigators to trace individual patients over time from diagnosis through treatment to outcomes over a multi-year period, the EMR systems will likely decrease the cost per participant and study, but increase the number of studies,” notes Nitzkin. “EMR systems will substantially lower the cost of assembling case series. It will also enable participation of many traditionally non-academic medical facilities. The EMR systems will enable investigators to try out different eligibility criteria to determine the most feasible approach, then more readily assemble the panels of both patient and physician participants.”

Helith Sofer, an international strategic planning and business development executive, believes that data mining could be a catalyst for creating transparency and accountability in the healthcare system. “The implementation of big data strategy, where large amounts of electronic medical records will be analyzed, holds a huge opportunity to improve medical research by analyzing drug effectiveness, disease treatment, as well as answering some existing broken links such as readmission due to hospital acquired infection,” Sofer explains. “The key to the success of this big data strategy is to have independent third party entities that will conduct the analysis; otherwise we might face the risk of data manipulation. These data mining services could be either initiated by life science companies and/or as part of the measurements metrics of the Accountable Care Organization (ACO) act.”

By Idil Kan

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