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Truman Medical Centers Will Mine Big Data In Unusual Collaboration

University of Missouri-Kansas City

Truman Medical Centers will have access to a treasure trove of health data as part of an unusual three-way collaboration with Cerner Corp. and the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

The project, announced Wednesday, will allow Truman to draw on medical information amassed by Cerner over the last 15 years from more than 47 million patients. The data is scrubbed of personal identifying information.

“The goal is to really generate new knowledge through research,” says Harlen Hays, research manager at Cerner. “By sharing this wealth of information, it allows for more researchers to access in a safe way – because it is de-identified – this information and create new findings.”

The collaboration, among the few of its kind in the country, was sparked by Mark Hoffman, who heads the UMKC Center for Health Insights and was previously vice president of research at Cerner for 16 years.

“When we talk about big data, this is it,” Hoffman says.

The Center for Health Insights was established in 2013 and draws on data-driven research to improve understanding of human health. Truman has a longstanding relationship with the university; it’s the primary teaching hospital for UMKC’s medical school and other health-related programs.

As an example of how the collaboration might work, Hoffman says diabetes researchers at Truman may want to know how many patients between the ages of 40 and 60 have glucose levels between 150 and 200 and are taking a particular drug. Right now, they’d only be able to come up with a rough estimate.

“This application lets them give you a very precise answer to that question, and that helps move your research much faster,” he says.

Cerner already provides the electronic health records system used at Truman. Combining the Cerner data with an NIH-funded software application called i2b2 – short for Informatics for Integrating Biology and Bedside – will enable medical researchers to understand considerably more about Truman’s patient population.

Jeffrey Hackman, chief medical information officer at Truman, says the project will offer ways to quickly determine if the hospital qualifies for a research project when, say, the National Institutes of Health or another research organization puts out a request.

As an example he cited a national organization that recently put out a proposal on managing patients who have both diabetes and osteoporosis. Truman had to spend considerable time determining if it had enough patients who met those criteria.

“Just figuring out if we would have enough patients to qualify was a lot of work,” Hackman says. “With i2b2, we’re able to literally drag and drop and pick a few criteria, and it spits out a list of patients with de-indentified information.”

Hackman says the collaboration also will allow Truman to achieve better outcomes by comparing the health of local patients with those in the nation as a whole, or even in particular regions, “on a much more granular level than Medicare data would allow you to do.”  

That ability to do local analysis and then compare it to national data is “very powerful,” Hoffman, of the Center for Health Insights, says.

“Likewise we can do the opposite direction. If we do an analysis in my team with the national data, see an interesting trend and then want to confirm whether that same trend holds up locally at Truman, we’ll have all of the pieces in place to do that. And I think that will be transformative for both UMKC, Truman and hopefully Kansas City,” he says.

In theory, the collaboration should lead to improved health outcomes, reduced health disparities and even lower medical costs. For a safety net hospital like Truman, which serves some of the area’s most vulnerable populations, those are goals that aren’t always easy to achieve.

“Anytime there’s the opportunity to look at the data that’s available about the health of our patients and the health of hundreds and hundreds of thousands of patients is an opportunity to potentially improve their health,” Hackman says. “Because it’s obviously very difficult to impact that or make changes if we don’t know where we’re starting from or where the problems really are.”

Editor’s note: KCUR is licensed by the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

Dan Margolies, editor of the Heartland Health Monitor team, is based at KCUR.

Dan Margolies has been a reporter for the Kansas City Business Journal, The Kansas City Star, and KCUR Public Radio. He retired as a reporter in December 2022 after a 37-year journalism career.
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