MedStar is inaugural member of Cerner Learning Health Network

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The largest provider in the Maryland-Washington area is the first healthcare system to join a network leveraging Cerner’s electronic health record and HealtheIntent platforms to support clinical research.

Columbia, MD-based MedStar Health is a founding member of the Cerner Learning Health Network, which will automate de-identified clinical data collection from participating members and pool it in a database that healthcare systems can then access for approved medical studies.

“This network is a way that we can collaborate with other health systems that are doing the same research,” says Neil Weissman, MD, president of MedStar Health Research Institute and chief scientific officer for MedStar Health. “We can do it in a uniform, standardized way in having tools embedded in the electronic medical records.”

Weissman contends that the Cerner Learning Health Network will enable participating members to send out “queries” to gauge interests in conducting specific studies.

“If one of my investigators at MedStar is interested in doing a study that requires more patients than we have in our own health system, we can go to the network and see if other people are interested,” he adds, noting that patients must give their consent to be included in research.

At the same time, Weissman emphasizes that “one health system cannot go into another health system’s data from this network—it is a collaborative, facilitative network and not an access network.”

This year, Cerner expects to add as many as 40 health systems—both academic and non-academic—to its Learning Health Network, who as members will have the opportunity to participate in a variety of studies as well as propose their own research ideas.

According to Art Glasgow, Cerner’s senior vice president of strategic growth, the Cerner Learning Health Network “represents a novel approach to clinical research, helping our provider clients use data to obtain real-world evidence and evaluate the effectiveness of medical therapies and devices.”

Weissman makes the case that real-world evidence is essential for evaluating potential problems with approved drugs and devices that might not have surfaced in clinical trials. “If you can look across multiple health systems and thousands of patients, you can pick up those early signals much better than any one of those health systems looking at their own data,” he says. “There is value in numbers and that’s what the Cerner network allows us to do.”

Glasgow points out that providers that join the Cerner Learning Health Network will also have access to potential funding for studies and use advanced health IT solutions for the analysis of data.

“A critical component of the Cerner Learning Health Network is maintaining data privacy protections,” according to the announcement. “The network only supports access to de-identified data, which will not be permitted to leave Cerner’s monitored systems nor will it be shared without direct project-based consent. Under no circumstances will individually identifiable data leave the network without appropriate authorization of participating health systems.”

In addition, the use of clinical data in the Cerner research network will be overseen by a governance board, which will include MedStar Health as an inaugural member—as well as an ethicist and patient representation.

“All the safeguards are there for the patients’ well-being and protection,” concludes Weissman. “Study ideas will come to the governance board which will decide whether they make sense for the network. The research must be valid and credible.”

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