Medical research leads to new drugs and treatments that save thousands of lives every day. But sometimes, that research can take 15 to 20 years before effective results are seen. Essentia Health recently received $700,000 to take part in a national research program designed to develop faster and more accurate research results.
“Essentia Health was invited to join one of 34 networks across the country,” says Irina Haller, Essentia Institute of Rural Health senior research scientist. “Each network’s goal is to improve research methods, so ultimately, our patients benefit from the latest and most accurate medical research.” Haller is the Essentia site principal investigator for the project.
The network Essentia is part of is called the Learning Health Systems Network (LHSNet). By joining the network, Essentia researchers will expand their potential pool of research subjects from 360,000 to more than 10 million by accessing information from the nine LHSNet organizations led by Mayo Clinic. Other members include Allina, Medica Research Institute, Olmsted County Public Health, InterMountain Healthcare, the University of Michigan, Ohio State University, and Arizona State University.
“Our first goal is to create a common-data model with a common language,” Haller says. “We all may have electronic health records, but they don’t all speak the same language or to each other. The common-data model will allow us to access information within the network and between networks, without violating patients’ privacy. Think of it as a toolbox for evaluating information, but in real life and in real time,”
“The patient involvement in LHSNet is what will make the results worthwhile. Once the infrastructure is in place, it will speed almost all aspects of the research process and be backed by higher quality data,” says Nathan Tesch, Essentia Health project coordinator. “Each of the organizations will be able to do more with their existing resources to improve patient care for everyone. This is a case of LHSNet being more than the sum of its parts.”
At the heart of the project is a focus on patient-centered care. So much so, that patients are part of the LHSNet leadership and decision-making.
“I am most excited about how patient data can be analyzed safely in a secure way to expedite clinical trials by 10 to 15 years to make a difference in my life. This type of clinical trial will improve the shared decision-making process I have with my physician and my healthcare team to better the quality of my health,” says Wade Roseth, who is an Essentia patient partner. “When I was at the network kick-off, I was really impressed with how well the member organizations collaborated for the good of the patient. It’s really focused on the patient. It focused on quality.”
Each of the 34 networks involved in the research project will focus on three main medical issues: two common concerns and a rare condition. LHSNet will study obesity, heart failure and osteogenesis imperfecta, or brittle bone disease.
“Once created, the power is in our collective data,” says Dr. Joseph Bianco, Essentia Health primary care director. “We can throw it in one big basket and then use that data to create clinical trials to help our patients.”
Funding for the 34 networks comes from a non-government, independent research institute called Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI). In total, LHSNet received $8.6 million from PCORI over a three-year period for the project.
"We're delighted to welcome LHSNet into our mutual efforts to build what we intend to be a premier national resource for conducting high-quality, patient-centered clinical research," said PCORI Executive Director Joe Selby, MD, MPH.
Essentia Health has been honored in the past to take part in other PCORI initiatives to advance medical research in fields like cancer clinical trials. Several of the 34 networks PCORI is funding have already set up their common-data model and have begun research projects. For example, a recently announced study of how much aspirin hospitals should prescribe is currently under way.
“Millions of people will benefit when we learn the answers to what is the best aspirin dosage to give cardiac patients in and out of the hospital,” Haller adds. “That study is a direct result of the PCORI funding and formation of these 34 research networks. To be part of something that can directly impact so many lives is an amazing privilege and honor.”