Epic to gather records of 20 million patients for medical research

Epic is unveiling a massive data compilation effort intended to gather de-identified patient information from participating systems that eventually could be used by clinicians to improve care decisions.

Called Cosmos, the initiative aims to aggregate patients’ medical information from its customers to offer a wider base of information from which to enable real-world evidence based practice of medicine, even for conditions that are now currently rare and on which it’s difficult to have a large enough sample size on which to make medical decisions.

The Verona, Wis.-based hospital systems vendor publicized the project on Tuesday at its users group meeting, which attracted about 17,000 healthcare IT professionals to its campus.

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So far, nine healthcare systems are contributing patient data to Cosmos, says Sumit Rana, senior vice president of research and development for Epic. Those systems have data on 7.7 million patients. The company is in discussions with more than 30 other customers that could contribute data, which would result in the data of about 25 million patients being included.

Health systems that want to participate sign a contract and then must work to ensure that the medical information they contribute to Cosmos is of high quality and standardized to ensure that it can be used to support research.

“A big part of what we do is used standards-based vocabularies, such as SNOMED,” says Sam Butler, MD, Epic’s chief medical officer. For its part, Epic “does the heavy lifting behind the scenes. We’re doing the actual mapping of terminologies” to enable Cosmos to work.

Epic is still in the process of talking to customers to gain participation, and then will work to ensure their information is of high quality. The data won’t be used for research until it has the records of 20 million patients, says Todd Burstain, MD, chief medical informatics officer at Oschner Health Systems and chair of the board of participating medical organizations supporting the Cosmos initiative.

“Cosmos has the potential to fundamentally change how healthcare is delivered around the world,” he contends. “It focuses on the best care for my patient—it turns research on its head.”

Epic is building the project on foundational functionality in its records system, such as Care Everywhere interoperability. The company plans to empower uses to sift through the information with existing analytics tools, such as SlicerDicer, but plans to develop more applications that will enable users to manage research.

Cosmos could make contributions to medical care in a couple ways, Rana says. He contends that it will help speed medical research, and it will broaden the base of records from which researchers can draw to find answers for patients who have rare diseases or who have concurrent conditions that are difficult to treat.

“We’re going to pull together a machine learning platform, and by doing so, we can improve outcomes today,” says Peter DeVault, vice president of interoperability and genomics for Epic. “It will help reduce the amount of time to take research to improve clinical care. It takes advantage of the work we've been doing for more than a decade. Cosmos will be another node on the Epic network where we aggregate data.”

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