Reflections on the use of electronic health record data for clinical research
The adoption of electronic health records (EHRs) offers the potential to improve the delivery, quality, and continuity of clinical care, but widespread use has not yet occurred. In this article, we describe our use of clinical (production) data that were derived from outpatient and inpatient visits at a university teaching hospital for clinical research, a use for which the data and their structure were not originally designed. Similar data exist at many outpatient and inpatient clinical facilities, and we believe that our insights are relevant to electronically captured medical data regardless of their origin. We describe the approaches taken to ensure compliance with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and to leverage the vast stores of structured and unstructured data that are currently underused. We conclude by reflecting on what we would have done differently and by making recommendations to streamline the process.