Using medical records of patients with COVID-19 in five countries, researchers create agile analytic tool for rapid disease insights
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More than a decade ago, electronic medical records were all the rage, promising to transform health care and help guide clinical decisions and public health response.
With the arrival of COVID-19, researchers quickly realized that electronic medical records (EMRs) had not lived up to their full potential—largely due to widespread decentralization of records and clinical systems that cannot “talk” to one another.
Now, in an effort to circumvent these impediments, an international group of researchers has successfully created a centralized medical records repository that, in addition to rapid data collection, can perform data analysis and visualization.
The platform, described Aug.19 inNature Digital Medicine, contains data from 96 hospitals in five countries and has yielded intriguing, albeit preliminary, clinical clues about how the disease presents, evolves and affects different organ systems across different categories of patients COVID-19.
For now, the platform represents more of a proof-of-concept than a fully evolved tool, the research team cautions, adding that the initial observations enabled by the data raise more questions than they answer.
However, as data collection grows and more institutions begin to contribute such information, the utility of the platform will evolve accordingly, the team said.
“COVID-19 caught the world off guard and has exposed important deficiencies in our ability to use electronic medical records to glean telltale insights that could inform response during a shapeshifting pandemic,” said Isaac Kohane, senior author on the research and chair of DBMI. “The new platform we have created shows that we can, in fact, overcome some of these challenges and rapidly collect critical data that can help us confront the disease at the bedside and beyond.”
In its report, the Harvard Medical School-led multi-institutional research team provides insights from early analysis of records from 27,584 patients and 187,802 lab tests collected in the early days of epidemic, from Jan. 1 to April 11. The data came from 96 hospitals in the United States, France, Italy, Germany and Singapore, as part of the 4CE Consortium, an international research repository of electronic medical records used to inform studies of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Our work demonstrates that hospital systems can organize quickly to collaborate across borders, languages and different coding systems,” said study first author Gabriel Brat, HMS assistant professor of surgery at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and a member of the Department of Biomedical Informatics. “I hope that our ongoing efforts to generate insights about COVID-19 and improve treatment will encourage others from around the world to join in and share data.”