By Chris Hrenko
As we’ve discovered in the past several months, technology has the potential to bridge the gap between patient and doctor when in-person visits are impossible. But even before providers started leaning on technology to maintain patient relationships during the pandemic, many medical professionals had already been harnessing the power of tech to improve clinical research, accelerate new treatments, and facilitate better care for their patients. That’s a boon for people living with epilepsy or certain other health conditions, as more information translates to more personalized care.
Lara Jehi, MD, was hired in January as the inaugural chief research information officer at Cleveland Clinic, where she uses technology to better coordinate the link between patient care and new research opportunities. Jehi’s work at Cleveland Clinic is focused in the field of health informatics, a fast-growing sector of health care that uses technology to collect insights from patient data.
The key, says Jehi, is not just capturing the vast amount of data that every patient provides, but doing so in a way that makes it accessible to researchers while ensuring the security and confidentiality of patients’ medical records.
“We want ‘Big Clean Data,’ not just ‘Big Data,’” she says.
A key part of her role is identifying the most important information from an immeasurably large pool of data. Researchers then take this data and plug it into specific research projects to test the effectiveness of current models of care and ultimately to advance groundbreaking new treatments. The ability to track distinct data points has proved particularly useful in tracking the spread of the coronavirus. When it became clear that COVID-19 was a serious health concern, Jehi and her team created a research registry of all patients tested for COVID-19 in Cleveland Clinic facilities. Within weeks, Cleveland Clinic had created 143 ongoing research projects using the data. Within a month, researchers had identified several potentially effective treatments that are now formally being tested in randomized clinical trials. Based on the data from the project, researchers developed tools that “identify patients at risk of being infected with COVID, and those at highest risk of progressing to severe disease,” Jehi says.
For people living with epilepsy, this kind of research could be hugely beneficial.
“Epilepsy research is an important subset of ongoing COVID research,” Jehi says. “Many projects are now evaluating questions specific to epilepsy patients, such as differential risk, impact of COVID-19 on chronic epilepsy care, and epilepsy patient outcomes.”