Health Care

EXCLUSIVE: New SC medical database could improve care, reduce costs

A consortium of S.C. universities and hospital systems has started using a database with medical information on millions of patients statewide that they hope can develop better — and less expensive — treatment plans.

The $15 million Clinical Data Warehouse is housed at Clemson University and operated by Health Sciences South Carolina in Columbia. Money for the project came from the Duke Endowment, which has given the group $31 million over the past decade.

The warehouse has operated since September, but a group of three research universities and three hospital systems will unveil the project to the public Monday.

Doctors and university researchers hope using the data, which belongs to 3.2 million patients who have been through 25.3 million medical diagnoses since 2011, can help change how South Carolinians receive medical treatment before they fall severely ill.

“It’s a complete shift,” said Tripp Jennings, systems vice president for Palmetto Health in Columbia, one of the partners in Health Sciences South Carolina. “Our history has been sick care. Now, we’re really trying to get to health care.”

Researchers already are looking over data to find ways to reduce surgical complications, according to a recent Health Sciences presentation. They are trying to find patterns that will help them spot problems after operations and then use the database to see if solutions are working or need changing.

Researchers also are studying care for people who suffer heart attacks outside of hospitals and children who contract pneumonia.

Accessing the records could improve the preventative medical care for South Carolinians, residents of a state ranked 46th in health by the United Health Foundation in 2012, and lower the costs for care by finding less expensive treatment plans, Health Sciences chief executive Jay Moskowitz said.

“You cannot make a very good clinical decision on 10 patients, but you can for sure do that with 100,000 patients,” he said.

The research also could prove an economic benefit for the state by reducing the number of cases of some of the state’s most common ailments, including diabetes, hypertension and obesity, said Dr. Jihad Obeid, co-director of the biomedical informatics center at the Medical University of South Carolina, another Health Sciences partner.

South Carolina has among the highest rates of diabetes and obesity in the nation, according to the United Health Foundation.

“This a critical moment in South Carolina’s history when it comes to health,” Moskowitz said.

Having so much data could cut the time that it takes treatment plans to reach patients to five years from more than 15 years since schools and hospitals have agreed to share information and research, Moskowitz said.

The collaboration also could help South Carolina win more medical funding from federal agencies, such as the National Institutes for Health, and non-profits, such as the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute, Moskowitz said. “They’re looking for states with multi-disciplinary institutional approaches to this.”

Health Science plans to share its findings from the database across the country, Moskowitz said.

The information now being used does not include ways to identify individual patients, Moskowitz said. Patients later will be asked if their personal information can be used in clinical trials, he said.

Health Sciences has taken precautions to protect medical data, especially after foreign cyber-hackers stole tax information belonging to 6.4 million consumers and businesses from the S.C. Department of Revenue last year.

The medical data is encrypted. Also, anyone using the data warehouse must receive approval and training first. Laptops with information cannot be taken off site and no thumb drives are allowed when working with the information, Moskowitz said.

Clemson, which is housing the database, has experience in handling massive amounts of medical records. The school oversees much of the state’s Medicaid technology work.

Data warehouse users have one password now. But the Health Sciences members are expected to soon use dual-password protection, which cyber-security experts recommend.

The warehouse employs 25, including computer security and privacy officers, Moskowitz said. “We have done everything feasible that we can to protect the patient’s privacy and security.”

S.C. Clinical Data Warehouse

Health Sciences South Carolina has developed a database of medical information on millions of S.C. patients so researchers can find better health-care treatments.

How it works: Researchers can use data belonging to 3.2 million patients who have been through 25.3 million medical procedures to study the effectiveness of treatments since 2011. Data requests can be reviewed and the database is overseen by a board that includes members of the public. Findings will be shared among participating colleges and hospitals.

Hospital systems sending information: Palmetto Health (Columbia), Greenville Health System and MUSC Health (Charleston). Joining them later will be Spartanburg Regional Healthcare System, AnMed Health in Anderson, Self Regional Healthcare in Greenwood and McLeod Health in Florence.

Colleges participating: University of South Carolina, Clemson University and the Medical University of South Carolina

Security: Researchers must be approved by the database operators and go through training. They cannot remove laptops or bring thumb drives. Data are encrypted and password protected.