Mapping Patient Data: Aurora Health Care’s Business Analytics Mission

Aurora Health Care, Milwaukee, Wisc., has undertaken a major patient data collection initiative in order to improve patient care. The organization is also looking to make itself attractive to pharmaceutical companies and research universities that want to engage in clinical trials.

Aurora Health Care is a not-for-profit health system that serves 1.5 million patients a year across 15 hospitals and 155 clinics in 90 communities in eastern Wisconsin and northern Illinois. It is the largest health system in Wisconsin.

"One of Aurora’s primary goals is to provide the best care for our patients," says Philip Loftus, CIO. "This includes making them aware of the existence of clinical trials that can provide them with potentially valuable care options. We assemble information for quality care and patient safety."

Aurora has years’ worth of patient data that it has been collecting and then de-identifying. "We provide information on this de-identified data to those that might want to sponsor clinical trials, such as pharma and universities," says Randy Lambrecht, Ph.D., vice president of research and academic relations. "This is information about our population and the disease states that we have here." Aurora can provide a profile of its patients to pharmaceutical researchers and universities, to help them determine whether a particular clinical trial would be well suited to its patient population.

Most recently, Aurora has been working to find a way to design these clinical trials, with a focus on making them database-driven. "We want to build a system so we can ease into more clinical trials, do them faster, and do them with a smaller population," says Lambrecht. He adds that improving the efficiency of clinical trial design will enable to rapidly deliver innovative therapies to patients. "When we understand each patient more accurately, it will help bring the best medicine available to those who need it the most," notes Loftus.

The company is working with Oracle, which will provide data management and analytics expertise to help Aurora leverage its clinical expertise and maximize the potential of Aurora’s Open-Source Robotic Biorepository & Informatics Technology (ORBIT) to further advance biomarker research.

Aurora has made a large investment in ORBIT, which was created about four years ago, and which has been up and running for almost two years. "We collect and store DNA samples totally robotically, and then link these to clinical information in our electronic health records," says Lambrecht. "We have about 100,000 samples from patients who consented to have their samples stored."

As Aurora sees it, part of improving clinical trials involves effectively using the massive amount of information it already has in its electronic health records as well as the new information that it will have as genetic testing technologies roll out. "This is where Oracle comes in," says Lambrecht. "They will help us manage the data."

Adds Loftus: "My role as CIO in the partnership with Oracle is to ensure that we are able to leverage our clinical data to support the needs of medical research, both by our own clinicians and researchers and, in partnership with Oracle, with agreed external research organizations."

One of the key technical challenges that Loftus sees will be mapping Aurora’s clinical data to put it into a form that is suitable for medical research, while at the same time ensuring patient privacy. "This includes normalizing and restructuring the data to make it more readily searchable by researchers, but also de-identifying the data to protect patient privacy and ensure that it meets HIPAA requirements," he says.

The anticipated result? "We will be able to attract the best in medical research by better streamlining the processes between the pharmaceutical and academic research institutions and our own researchers at Aurora," says Loftus.

"This is the future of medicine," adds Nick Turkal, M.D., president and CEO of Aurora Health Care. "The opportunities created through this agreement with Oracle could transform clinical research. We hope this project will allow us to work with industry to take research to the next level. We believe this collaboration will contribute to significant advancements that improve patients’ lives while lowering costs."

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