Why interoperability is a key to improving research

Interoperability is a key component of improving research and the ability of healthcare investigators to achieve improvements, says one of the nation’s largest healthcare IT organizations.

That’s among the comments submitted by the American Medical Informatics Association, known as AMIA, for ways to compel researchers to improve the sharing of their work.

The National Institutes of Health, which is the nation’s medical research agency, in November issued a request for information on strategies for standardizing how the agency manages data, cites shared data and software, and makes findings publicly available.

“Data sharing has become such an important proximal output of research that we believe the relative value of a proposed project should include consideration of how its data will be shared,” AMIA said in its comments. “By using the peer-review process, we will make incremental improvements to interoperability while identifying approaches to better data sharing practices over time.”

Interoperability is the key to better sharing of research, says Jeffrey Smith, vice president of public policy at AMIA. “The intention is to ensure that whatever data is used and created toward results of research will be available for secondary use and reanalysis and reproducibility.”

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In the past year, the Cancer Moonshot Initiative championed by Vice President Joe Biden and the Precision Medicine Initiative have put a spotlight on how siloed research data can be, Smith explains. Now, the NIH is trying to break down the silos.

“We can leverage computer speeds and storage at levels not possible a decade ago,” Smith contends. “Yet we have very few institutional ways to acknowledge the value of data sets and software.”

Consequently, the NIH RFI focuses on data management and sharing strategies to ensure that data generated in public research is made available and properly cited. The NIH initiative, Smith believes, also will shine a spotlight on how few clinical trial organizations actually deposit their data into the NIH clinicaltrials.gov web site.

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When researchers submit applications for government grant-supported projects, NIH convenes experts to review and score the projects to determine overall quality of the application. The application must have a sharing component, but that component is not part of the overall scoring process, according to Smith, who calls it “a check-the-box exercise.”

Consequently, AMIA advocates that a plan to share data should be scored during the expert review process of grant applications. “Making it scorable means you have to spend time and attention on data sharing,” Smith says, while acknowledging this would be a new and big step for researchers. “Some researchers aren’t well-versed in collecting, managing and sharing data.”

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