Industry Voices—How real-world EHR data are enhancing our understanding of COVID-19

Traditionally, the healthcare industry has moved slowly when embracing new technology innovations.

However, over the past few months, it has been forced to rapidly advance to confront the challenges posed by COVID-19. One area that has received increased attention is real-world data (RWD), specifically, the ways in which RWD can be used in clinical research to quickly reveal insights about treatments, outcomes, and risk factors for COVID-19.

As much of these data are already available in the form of electronic health records (EHRs), it enables us to illuminate clinically relevant trends and learnings that can be applied in real-time.

The Biggest Obstacle

If you’ve been following the news over the last few months, one thing is abundantly clear: Things are changing daily as COVID-19 spreads around the world. As a result, frontline care providers are learning how to treat patients in real time and they need new information and additional guidance now.

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Unfortunately, the speed at which we need to move is a direct juxtaposition to traditional research methods, which can take months or even years to complete. While randomized clinical trials remain the gold standard for ensuring drug safety and efficacy, they are not designed to provide real-time information to inform treatment for patients with COVID-19.

This virus is a constantly moving target, with a growing data set and a myriad of variables to consider. If we only rely on traditional research methods to improve our understanding of COVID-19, it’s essentially like entering a boxing match blindfolded for those on the front lines. By analyzing RWD from patients who have tested positive, including their treatment patterns and associated outcomes, we can begin to piece together some early learnings.

Gaining insight

By analyzing trends in COVID-19 data, we’ve been able to glean information on what treatments might be making an impact—and which are not. For instance, one analysis showed a lack of efficacy of hydroxychloroquine among hospitalized COVID-19 patients, despite early statements supporting this treatment.

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This desire for increased insights isn’t just on the frontlines—the FDA has been vocal about its desire to understand treatment outcomes in COVID-19 patients.

They’re actively working with organizations across the industry to gather actionable information. Another industry initiative that is working to put patient data to use is the COVID-19 Evidence Accelerator, launched by Friends of Cancer Research and the Reagan-Udall Foundation for the FDA. Collectively, these programs are working to fill the gaps in our understanding of COVID-19 so we can better triage at-risk patients and treat them more quickly.

Future applications

Patient data can also be instrumental in ensuring that clinical trials continue on as planned. Due to the pandemic, a number of trials have been put on hold. However, RWD can be used to fill these gaps down the line so that ongoing clinical research isn’t slowed.

We are now seeing the acceptance of RWD increasing across various verticals in healthcare. Using EHR data of real patients, we’ve been able to identify risk factors and treatment outcomes trends. Having this information readily available to everyone—from frontline workers to the FDA—will be instrumental in treating COVID-19.

Mike Doyle is the president and CEO of COTA.