SHARP researchers develop tools to identify, sort data from many EHRs

By Mary Mosquera
11:42 AM

Researchers from a project led by the Mayo Clinic are close to finishing a set of computer tools that can identify and sort digital health information from an electronic health record (EHR) no matter what file format and data organization are used.

The tools are central to the Mayo Clinic-led project to promote the secondary use of electronic health record data while maintaining privacy and security. Its research seeks to safely and securely convert stores of EHRs into a pool of real-world clinical knowledge, according to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., in a July 12 announcement.

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The development is part of the Strategic Health IT Advanced Research Projects (SHARP) program that is funded by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT. The SHARP projects are designed to promote breakthrough research and innovative methods to overcome hurdles in health IT.

To date, investigators have used natural language processing tools to isolate health information from about 30 medical records of patients with diabetes, said Dr. Christopher Chute, a Mayo Clinic epidemiologist and the principal investigator for Mayo's SHARP grant.

When run through computing systems developed in partnership with IBM's Watson Research Center, those 30 patient records explode into 134 billion individual pieces of information to be organized and stored.

When working with sensitive patient information, researchers say they recognize that data privacy and security is paramount. "The privacy of patient data is something we must hold in sacred trust,” Chute said.

The information exists in the millions of electronic medical records kept in hospitals and clinics, but it is inaccessible as a single body of knowledge because there is no standard format for medical records.

"There is a huge ocean of information that has the potential to significantly improve delivery of care," said Wil Yu, ONC’s SHARP program coordinator.

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Different hospitals and health IT vendors tag and store health information in different formats — many of them proprietary. Mayo Clinic and the three research institutions also funded by SHARP are working on software to mine the data for best practices and statistical trends.

The other SHARP grant projects are: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, to assure the security of health IT; the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, to enable patient-centered cognitive support for clinicians; and Harvard University, to make progress toward new healthcare applications and network-platform architectures.