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Health-IT early adopters well-poised for big-data advances in clinical medicine

Fred O'Connor | April 3, 2013
But the majority of US health providers are in smaller practices that have been slow to embrace electronic medical records

"We may be coming out of a recession but there's never been a recession for coders for the past 10 years."

Cloud-based EHR data analytics services have started to enter the market, touting benefits like lower IT costs and access to medical information from multiple health-care systems.

Cleveland Clinic is among the providers well-poised to take advantage of those technological advances.

"As we try to create the Cleveland Clinic of the future that enables us to best help our patients and also be as financially viable as possible, the use of EHRs and now with these big-data tolls that are arriving, it's a perfect match," said Chris Coburn, executive director of Cleveland Clinic Innovations, the corporate venture arm of the Cleveland Clinic, which records 5.1 million patient visits annually and began using EHRs from Epic Systems in the late 1990s.

In 2009 the Cleveland Clinic launched Explorys, which sells a private SaaS (software-as-a-service) platform that allows medical professionals to explore care options using clinical, financial and operational data from 120 hospitals and 15 million patients. At the time, security concerns were paramount because of the sensitive nature of the data.

"In a relatively short period of time a very secure system was created that we all trust now," Coburn said. "We all worry about this. We're all patients. Folks will have as much confidence in security for their electronic medical records as it relates to things like banking electronically. People treat HIPAA extremely seriously." (The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act -- HIPAA -- was passed in 1996 and it governs, among other things, medical-data privacy.)

For hospitals, cloud systems like Explorys offer affordable access to troves of data compared to the expense of developing their own systems that will contain less information, said Colburn. "We're not there yet in terms of where big data is going to take health care. But we are moving there pretty rapidly."

Last Wednesday, the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) debuted the prototype for its CancerLinQ database. The prototype, which focuses on breast cancer, contains deidentified information from EHRs, care providers and researchers. Physicians will be able to use the data stored in CancerLinQ's full build, which will be a private cloud accessible via a Web portal, to develop treatment plans tailored to a patient's specific cancer and clinical condition.

"The CancerLinQ prototype leverages a number of new IT trends: the availability of low-cost storage, the affordability and rapid scalability of virtual (cloud) servers, the growth and maturity of open-source software, as well as NoSQL (unstructured) databases," said Dr. Clifford Hudis, president-elect of ASCO, in an email interview. "Many of the benefits from these trends will likely carry forward into the full build."


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