New Virtual Data Warehouse will make it easier for researchers at WMed to access important data for projects

Dr. Philip Kroth
Philip J. Kroth, MD

A collaborative effort led by faculty and staff at the medical school has led to a new process for how researchers can request and retrieve clinical data for their projects.

The Virtual Data Warehouse (VDW) is a service and set of tools that streamlines the existing clinical data request process to create a single point of entry. In this way, all investigators requesting clinical data from inside or outside of WMed will start that process in the same way and in one place.

The VDW, which officially launched in June, currently boasts clinical data from the Epic Electronic Health Record (EHR) at WMed Health, allowing principal investigators and their teams to access more than 50,000 patient records for investigator-initiated, hypothesis-driven research and quality improvement projects.

“I think we’ve made really remarkable progress,” said Philip Kroth, MD, chair of the medical school’s Department of Biomedical Informatics, who led efforts to create the VDW. “I think we’re going to be able to derive more value from our institutional data for clinical quality improvement and research. We hope to eventually expand that capability to other data sources in the future.”

Dr. Kroth said the creation of the VDW means the process of accessing data from the WMed Health EHR will be more efficient and transparent. Previously, data extractions from the WMed Health EHR were procured by Bronson Healthcare IT. With the VDW, queries of WMed Health EHR data are now performed “in-house” by WMed IT personnel, making the process more efficient. This new system also helps WMed learn more about this process, creating “in-house” expertise to help researchers with future requests.

With the VDW, WMed’s IT department is in charge of providing a secured storage space and dataset tracking tool to ensure data sets are stored, protected, and eventually disposed or archived appropriately for researchers’ studies. Within the Department of Biomedical Informatics, a new VDW data manager, Theresa McGoff, works in a consultation role along with other research support personnel to help researchers brainstorm and determine feasibility and data availability to answer a research question.

The VDW website also launched in June and contains several resources, including a data request process flow diagram, FAQs, and other information to help researchers navigate the research process for a project that involves clinical data.

To bring the new VDW to life, Dr. Kroth said he turned in January to Leslie Johnson, the medical school’s director of Planning and Institutional Effectiveness, for her expertise around Operational Excellence and tapped into lean tools to set up a Kaizen event as a strong foundation for the project.

The collaborative process began with a 2.5 day Kaizen event in April that brought together principal investigators and representatives from across WMed, including the Institutional Review Board, Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Health Information Management, Information Technology, Biomedical Informatics, the medical school’s Research Process Coordinator (formerly known as the Research Navigator), and the Center for Clinical Research.

“That was the key, to bring all of these stakeholders together,” Johnson said. “We mapped out the research process – in its current state – and we identified all of the problems and barriers and then we designed the new process around the ideal future state. That’s what the Lean process allowed us to do.”

The Kaizen event included team-building exercises that allowed stakeholders to focus on working together, to navigate and solve problems as a unit, communicate effectively, and build relationships. They mapped out each of their roles in the research process at WMed and it was very enlightening. When it came down to it, it became clear that not everything was working as it seemed.

“It’s really hard work and you do two things – you get everyone together in a room, you diagram out what the existing process is and you really try to wring it out dry and get all of the ugliness out on the table,” Dr. Kroth said. “You unmask a lot of frustration and you have a lot of frank conversations about people’s experiences. You create a plan to go from the current process toward the ideal process and now we have one entry point for how researchers at the medical school can start the process of retrieving data for research or quality improvement purposes.”

Moving forward, Dr. Kroth said he wants to expand the VDW to include more data sources beyond the WMed Health EHR.

“We want to make this an in-house link to multiple data sources,” Dr. Kroth said. “In a way, we can become known as the data gurus or experts in Southwest Michigan. There’s a lot of work to do but we’ve made a lot of progress very quickly.”