Maximizing EMR Investments Past the Point of Care

How biospecimen and data procurement can positively impact both the clinical and financial bottom line

More than six years have passed since the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was signed into law and more than seven years since the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act took place. Tremendous strides have been made in the adoption of electronic medical records (EMR), which both laws sought to encourage, but there is still a long way to go for many medical care sites in terms of getting the most out of these heavy investments.

One way to leverage EMR implementation, and reap both clinical and financial benefits over and above the intended benefits from better coordination of care, involves using the EMR past the point of care, to help researchers obtain biospecimens and data from patients they want to study. EMRs provide data aggregation that is wildly useful to researchers when it is de-identified and coupled with corresponding patient biospecimens. Let’s take a closer look at how this works.

Clinical Discards

Every year hundreds of millions of Americans go to the doctor, giving samples such as blood, urine, or tissue for medical testing purposes. After patient testing is complete, these samples are generally thrown away because they are no longer needed for patient care. But meanwhile, scientists are clamoring to find human biospecimens on which to conduct their research, particularly as precision medicine surges.

By leveraging the EMR to watch patient and specimen flow, providers can begin to halt the disposal of specimens that match investigator needs, and instead route them into research where they will be put to good and purposeful use. Participating hospitals benefit immediately through compensation for the service of providing the specimens; and they contribute meaningfully to medical research which, in the longer term, will have a direct impact on patient care. Further, funds collected can quickly be put back into hospital operations, creating a stream of self-funding for a variety of initiatives, whether for direct patient care, staff training, or hospital equipment, such is imaging technologies.

Biobanking Efforts

In addition to clinical discards, the same approach can be taken for hospitals that have invested heavily in biobanking efforts. Despite the best of intentions to make specimens available for research, not all biobanks have been successful in moving inventory into science. By linking EMR data with each banked biospecimen, a virtual “catalog” is created that can be used to help scientists procure the specimens they need from the patients they want. In this scenario, not only is the EMR leveraged, but so is the capital-intensive biobanking effort, allowing new value to be reaped from both efforts.

Robust patient- and specimen-level data is critically important to today’s biomedical research. Nowadays, a tube of blood marked with a known test result and the patient’s age and gender, or a solid tissue block with a specific cancer are no longer sufficient for a vast majority of studies. With precision medicine booming, scientists are drilling down well past just demographics and disease-state and are requesting data such as previous treatments, clinical outcomes, genetic or molecular characterizations, or social histories, to name a few. Only in the EMR is this wealth of data available, and further, using rich EMR data makes it far simpler to locate “matched sets” of specimens – different sample types from the same patient, such as a sets of blood, cancerous tissue, adjacent normal tissue, and stem cells. Particularly for today’s cancer research studies, matched sets are in great demand.

Data Aggregation

So, how can a system as described be enabled, in which EMRs are tapped for purposes beyond their immediate, intended use of care coordination? Technology is critical to the biospecimen procurement process when vast amounts of data need to be searched to find the right patients and specimens across healthcare systems.

Only through automation can large sets of data from multiple care sites be aggregated and searched in an accurate, precise, and efficient manner. Researchers then gain access to a system in which biospecimens and data across multiple geographic locations are literally at the tips of their fingers. Given that specimen procurement has traditionally been a “black hole” in which researchers struggle to contact individual biobanks or hospitals for even just a few specimens that meet their needs, a technology-driven system fueled with precious EMR across a network of participating sites is researcher gold. And arguably, it’s equally precious to supplying organizations who can now streamline the process, reap new revenue, and participate meaningfully to new discoveries in care. Further, a technology-enabled system can operationalize other important needs, such as patient consent, HIPAA compliance, and IRB approvals, satisfying the requirements of both providing organizations as well as scientists who need the data and specimens.

With precision medicine showing no signs of slowing down and a recent study validating that over two-thirds of healthcare organizations say precision medicine is already having a measurable effect on patient outcomes, biospecimen procurement needs will undoubtedly continue to rise. As hospitals collectively work towards high-quality, cost-effective healthcare, leveraging costly investments and systems already-in-place can have a dramatic impact on both clinical and financial bottom lines. Biospecimen and data procurement, with the EMR at the center of the process, is one such way to do this.

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