EHR Reduces the Cost of Medical Research

Pablo Valerio, International Business & IT Consultant | 2/22/2013 | 14 comments

Pablo Valerio
Recently, I wrote an article about the cost benefits (or lack thereof) of Electronic Health Records (EHR) during the past few years in the US. While it is clear now that the promised savings for healthcare providers, patients, and the administration are fuzzy at best, the savings from EHR on medical research and drug testing are much clearer.

The UK has taken a leadership role in this area. Recently, they opened four eHealth Centers focusing on conditions such as cancer, diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular disease. The centers share anonymized patient information with research firms and drug companies, saving millions in costs and years in time in medical trials, and helping identify potential treatment problems because of incompatible drugs.

Drug incompatibility is one of the areas where EHR has proven to be extremely helpful. It is impossible for a pharmaceutical company to identify potential side effects of combining a particular drug with the millions of other medications on the market. They usually test their products with other drugs prescribed to patients with the same condition, but they can't trust all drugs used to treat unrelated conditions, and some combinations can be dangerous taken together. Even without dangerous side effects, some drug interactions cancel the positive effect of one or both drugs.

With access to the records of thousands of patients taking different drug combinations, researchers can identify some side effects, such as rising blood-sugar levels, in some patients and check if there is a correlation with those patients taking another medication. The same can be applied to the effect of a particular drug in groups of patients of certain race or age.

"That's a remarkably rare opportunity to look at a population that has many other health issues going on," said Elizabeth A. McGlynn, director of the Kaiser Permanente Center for Effectiveness and Safety Research. "The sheer volume and the richness of the data will enable us to have insights that are beyond anything we could have had any other way."

There are some obstacles though. Electronic records need to be "de-indentified" before they can be used for research. But also researchers, in order to make the best use of the information in databases, need to be able to tell when they are looking at the same patient, which in the case of the US, may be stored in several databases.

We can't just dump large amounts of "anonymized" raw data in the hands of drug companies and insurers. Precisely because there are now so many different public datasets to cross-reference, anyone making an effort has a good chance of matching identifiable individuals. This information can be a gold mine for insurance companies, but not in the best interest of patients. New HIPAA rules also allow patients paying cash for some treatments to stop healthcare providers from sharing information with their insurers. That's why some countries are creating specialized government datacenters to collect and process all EHR before they can be shared.

These problems can be overcome. I believe healthcare industry CIOs, from drug companies to hospitals and insurers, need to start looking for ways to tap into this new source of savings for research, especially in light of other difficulties in making EHR cost effective. Biotech companies could speed up bringing new drugs and treatments. Then EHR can be really profitable.

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impactnow   EHR Reduces the Cost of Medical Research   2/26/2013 11:28:51 AM
EHR many gems
Its a great alternative use for EHR I would expect their is also much information about family history and behavioral items that could assist medicine in predicting the issues that might plague an indivudal as they age.
Susan Nunziata   EHR Reduces the Cost of Medical Research   2/24/2013 11:38:32 PM
Re: Pablo is Right-Healthcare Costs are totally outta Control Today!!
@Ashish: The Time article is amazing. For more, you can see the article's author Steven Brill interviewed on Jon Stewart's The Daily Show here: Extended Interview: Steven Brill

Pedro Gonzales   EHR Reduces the Cost of Medical Research   2/24/2013 10:55:22 PM
great news
This is  great news pablo. Altough, there are many issues still involve as you pointed out, I hope they get resolve and we can finally see some positive proven results from using EHRs. 
The_Phil   EHR Reduces the Cost of Medical Research   2/24/2013 8:43:48 PM
Re: Pablo is Right-Healthcare Costs are totally outta Control Today!!
There are a lot of valid points in your comment.

THe pharmaceutical companies price the drugs so high because they spend so much on R&D and many of those drugs never actually make it to the market. So they recoup their costs with the one's that do make it.
David Wagner   EHR Reduces the Cost of Medical Research   2/24/2013 6:26:19 PM
Re: One victory
@Sara- Agreed. i'm just sad that the point of EHR was to help patients. Clearly, we've failed at that on every level. But lo and behold, the people who we're supposed to protecting patients from, are th eones finding a way to use it the best.
Sara Peters   EHR Reduces the Cost of Medical Research   2/24/2013 4:03:13 PM
Re: One victory
@Dave  Well I agree with you that "big pharma" wouldn't be my top choice, but I do think that patients can benefit from this. As Pablo said, no matter what kinds of research the pharmaceutical companies do before releasing a drug, there's no way that they can test every single case -- every single interaction, every single danger. So, at some point there's going to be a patient who runs into trouble, but doesn't know why. If EHRs and better data analysis can help pharmacists/physicians more quickly identify/diagnose these troubles, that's good news for patients.
David Wagner   EHR Reduces the Cost of Medical Research   2/24/2013 2:15:27 AM
Re: Pablo is Right-Healthcare Costs are totally outta Control Today!!
@the-Phil- I don't think it is regultion. There is a lot of regulation.

I think it is a more difficult problem. If you look at the way other services are priced, you can put it on a traditional supply/demand curve in economics. Where the demand for the product meets the supply, that's the price. If you increase supply, price should go down or vice versa. Same with demand.

But the demand for healthcare is higher than for any product. You can't measure demand for life saving (or life improving) healthcare. The demand is infinite. The supply and the demand lines never cross.

no matter what the price is, people will pay it. So we're relying on the goodness of those making drugs or giving care to only take so much. Realistically, they have the right to whatever they offer because without it, we'd be dead. At the same time, of course, we can't give it all away and have the economy function.

So, the real trick is figuring out how to price somehting fairly when it is literally priceless.
David Wagner   EHR Reduces the Cost of Medical Research   2/24/2013 2:11:14 AM
Re: Pablo is Right-Healthcare Costs are totally outta Control Today!!
@eethtworkz- That Time article was eye opening, i think to the average American, but not the healthcare industry. For sometime, there's been a transparency movement boiling up among doctors and It professionals to help this very problem. Unfortunately, there's a lot of money at stake here and how to implement that transprency is still up in the air.

But I do believe the Time article is behind the growing opinion in the healthcare industry that something can be done about this. It remains to be seen if it happens.
The_Phil   EHR Reduces the Cost of Medical Research   2/23/2013 11:48:21 PM
Re: Pablo is Right-Healthcare Costs are totally outta Control Today!!
The real problems with healthcare is that there's no real regulation. Costs are so high because of the crazy amounts of fraud that occurs each and every day. That's what causes doctors, hospitals, healthcare, and insurance companies to charge such high rates. It's to try and recoup the exorbitant losses.

Especially when it comes to the entitlement programs sponsored by the taxpayers.
No one feel accoutnable to the loss of that $$$

I'm not a big proponent of more government BUT what needs to be some type of system of checks and balances so that the scales don't get tipped too much in any one person/groups favor.

Another terrible statistic is the amounts of time, $$$, and resources spent trying to clean up the systematic fraud and crookedness.
singlemud   EHR Reduces the Cost of Medical Research   2/23/2013 9:38:10 PM
Re: One victory
Same feeling here, cost reduction for big pharma may not benefit normal people. The question is: is this kind of data or who will collect the money if not
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