Cleveland Clinic's 1st chief research information officer on all things data: research, interoperability and protection

As Cleveland Clinic's first chief research information officer, Lara Jehi, MD, will spearhead the health system's efforts to integrate patient data and research to accelerate clinical care.

Cleveland Clinic selected Dr. Jehi for the inaugural role to advance biomedical research and enhance the digital infrastructure at the health system, responsibilities that Dr. Jehi views as central to the continuous improvement of patient care.

"Our patients trust us with their lives. We owe it to them to deliver the best care," Dr. Jehi told Becker's. "A cornerstone of that oath is that we will always strive to learn and develop better ways to provide care."

With its large patient base, Cleveland Clinic generates a significant amount of health data. In 2018, the health system reported 7.9 million total outpatient visits and 238,000 hospital admissions and observations.

Here, Dr. Jehi discusses how she plans to leverage Cleveland Clinic's technology and databank to drive breakthroughs in clinical research as well as the health system's strategy behind patient data protection.

Editor's note: Responses have been lightly edited for clarity and length.

Question: What are some of your top goals and priorities in your new role as chief research information officer?

Dr. Lara Jehi: My ultimate goal is to bridge research and patient data with clinical care. Our patients trust us with their lives. We owe it to them to deliver the best care. A cornerstone of that oath is that we will always strive to learn and develop better ways to provide care. This is where I see the critical role of research, in its continuum from basic science to studies of different healthcare delivery systems. My role as chief research information officer is simply to accelerate this research at Cleveland Clinic. This requires establishing and sustaining a robust digital research infrastructure that facilitates research and collaborations in a strategic, meaningful, productive, compliant and transformative fashion. 

Q: How will your position expand the capabilities of Cleveland Clinic's health IT division?

LJ: We have a tremendous health IT division, and I am looking forward to working with our teams to focus goals and resources on the research arena. Several of our researchers are working to harness EHR data for diagnostic or treatment algorithms. Other researchers are focused on big data research whether it is in imaging, genetics or any other large dataset.

With the significant number of patients that we serve in Cleveland Clinic and the significant increase of healthcare data that is generated in our ever-more digital healthcare delivery systems, my position brings dedicated attention to a more thoughtful way of leveraging health IT to advance research.

Q: What are your thoughts on data interoperability, and what is Cleveland Clinic's strategy to support it?

LJ: Data interoperability is a major issue in healthcare systems around the country that as an industry we will need to resolve. Our patient information lives in separate silos and data systems, our teams use different platforms and applications — often to the same end — and our resources are expended trying to 'translate' information from one digital language to another. As the future of our healthcare delivery models will rely on more digital health tools and telemedicine for convenient and accessible care, the challenges of interoperability become even more relevant. Until we resolve these challenges, we will always be looking at pieces of a puzzle, rather than a complete picture. Cleveland Clinic will continue to work with the right partners to address this issue.

Q: Hospitals now can leverage various types of patient data to create a more comprehensive view of patients and populations. With this shift to becoming more data intensive, how do you ensure that patients' data is protected when used for research and clinical care?

LJ: Our strategic imperative at Cleveland Clinic is to care for our organization as if it were our home, care for each other and our patients as if we are family and care for our community. Our non-negotiable responsibility is to then protect our patients' data as if it belonged to our family and our home. I will be working very closely with our CISO and other critical stakeholders within the organization to ensure the application of those principles. Given my role as the vice-chair of our Institutional Review Board, which reviews research studies to ensure patient protection and interests, I am particularly aware of the risks, and how important it is to never lose sight of our guiding principle: we are here to serve patients, first and foremost.

To participate in future Becker's Q&As, contact Jackie Drees at jdrees@beckershealthcare.com.

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