Sharing EHR records could unlock their true potential, says health data experts

When the tangle of data locked in EHRs is decoded and shared between organizations and institutions, important health insights can be discovered, Nature reported May 3. 

Data from EHRs is often exported by health systems into data repositories for use by academic or institutional researchers. Much of the data though is not standardized, making the process of searching for data relevant to research similar to searching for "a needle in a haystack," according to Peter Higgins, MD, PhD, of University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. 

Other protections on patient privacy and restrictive institutional regulations also mean that using the data is difficult, especially for those outside of certain health systems or academic institutions. 

However, some data sharing initiatives spurred on by the pandemic have revealed the potential of the data when it is made readily available. The National COVID Cohort Collaborative, for instance, holds data from 13 million patients and 70 institutions. It links patient data while preserving privacy, meaning researchers can get a clearer idea of a patient's care trajectory across health systems. It also allows healthcare professionals to team up with data scientists to understand the data in a more robust way. 

"In that way, [it's] an equalizer," Charisse Madlock-Brown, a health-informatics researcher at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center in Memphis, told Nature. "I can't think of another example in academia where you can access this much with no need to pay."

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