Data, Fast and Furious

Electronic data — acquiring it, storing it, maintaining it, retrieving it, applying it — is becoming central to conducting medical research. In fact, Peter Tarczy-Hornoch, M.D., UW professor and acting chair of the Department of Medical Education and Biomedical Informatics, describes informatics — including clinical data repositories — as developing into “the central and peripheral nervous system of UW Medicine.”

Working with the Institute of Translational Health Sciences (ITHS), UW Medicine investigators can access and store electronic health information — in accordance with Institutional Review Board (IRB) oversight and government privacy laws such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) — to conduct translational research. Data acquired in a clinical trial, for example, could show how patients respond to medication.

Microsoft Amalga — a sophisticated platform for developing data repositories — is being used to aggregate clinical data. After a two-year pilot of the software, UW Medicine is expanding its use and collaborating with Microsoft on further development and enhancement.

The ITHS has found Amalga quite useful, says Tarczy-Hornoch. “[The program] helped a number of KL2 scholars who had Institutional Review Board-approved protocols to recruit and enroll patients in research studies much more efficiently and effectively,” he says. For example, the system can sort through eligibility criteria for a study and collect additional study-specific data, link study data to clinical data, and facilitate statistical analysis.

In addition to its research uses, Amalga is being used for quality assessment and improvement of clinical care throughout the UW Medicine health system; more than a dozen projects to improve quality of care via rapid monitoring of clinical data have been developed so far.

“If there are things that would impact the quality of your care while you’re in the hospital and we can see that in real time, we can improve care immediately,” says Tarczy-Hornoch. 

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