New Job Requires Expertise: Electronic Health Records Clinical Researcher
The US government driven (CMS, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services) incentivized push for electronic health records (EHRs) has mostly focused on the business logistics of tracking healthcare delivery and associated costs. And while the proposed Accountable Care Organization concept deepens the utility of EHRs to include quality and clinical outcome performance metrics they also have implicit goals for managing and controlling costs. Under the guise of better healthcare at lower cost, my impression is that most healthcare systems are probably looking at this more in the context of making sure CMS or insurers are comprehensively billed and that they have a way to verify billing accuracy and any incentive payments have been rightfully earned.
I wonder if we will ever get to a point of exploiting the clinical information hidden in these electronic data files. Could EHRs ever lead to better real world data to support evidence based medicine? With millions of patients in the “real world” data sets over an extended period of time you would think that figuring out “best practice treatment guidelines” would be better served than by a couple of clinical trials with a few hundred or even a couple thousand carefully selected patients studied over a relatively short period of time. Want comparative effectiveness? You would think this could be determined with the electronic data on thousands if not millions of patients rather than a small statistically designed trial in a single institution or small number of sites. EHRs could also be useful for identifying treatment trends or determining where companion diagnostics might be most helpful.
The challenges of HIPAA compliance, research regulations, and bioethical considerations are beyond my area of expertise but I feel it would be a unfortunate if they stood in the way of being able to use this valuable information. There must be ways to design and execute this type of research without compromising patient confidentiality and ensuring patient safety. I also appreciate the pitfalls, limitations, and scientific critiques of retrospectively data mining to assess and evaluate clinical data.
The value of EHRs goes well beyond the financial implications and benefits. To realize their clinical potential the data must be accessible; it must be analyzed and accurately interpreted. This will require a new breed of clinicians with specialization in the design, execution, and reporting of EHR clinical study data. Clinical interpretation of the data will require therapeutic area expertise, an appreciation for statistics, and a comprehensive understanding of the data set and the nuances of the data limitations. These are not part-time jobs but rather new job functions (staffed with expertise) that add cost to healthcare initially with cost benefits coming in the form of more cost effective, better treatment outcomes in the future.
The danger will be in executing poorly designed, “quick and dirty” reviews and clinical assessments without expertise which can lead to misleading or wrong conclusions and potentially adverse or costly recommendations … purportedly supported by data. firstname.lastname@example.org