Research and Woodruff Health Sciences IT

Header graphic for OIT Annual Report

Marc Overcash

In his fifth year in the role of Deputy Chief Information Officer, Marc Overcash leads the Research and Woodruff Health Sciences IT Division in the advancement of research through the application of information technology. Marc also serves as the Assistant Dean of Research in the School of Medicine, Adjunct Faculty in Public Health Informatics in the Rollins School of Public Health, and co-director of the Biomedical Informatics Program for the Atlanta Clinical and Translational Science Institute.

FY11 was a year of growth in many areas for the Division, including: more use of our services by the Emory research community, new research opportunities awarded through strong collaboration with investigators and IT working together, the commitment of new research infrastructure to help investigators perform their research, reorganizations and new IT leadership in some of the WHSC IT units, and strengthening and forming new collaborative partnerships within the Emory community and beyond. Here are a few of the many accomplishments to spotlight:

School of Medicine Reorganization

Seeking higher quality information technology services while mindful of economic constraints, Emory University School of Medicine deployed an innovative reorganization. Whereas most schools of medicines build their own IT departments completely separate from the central IT organizations, Emory SOM went the other way: they built upon their collaborative partnership with OIT. Instead of hiring new leadership, the School and OIT leveraged existing leadership positions in Research and Woodruff Health Sciences IT (R-WIT), establishing joint positions with shared accountability. The School also did a top-down analysis of services and removed duplication of services, such as server administration, web design, and database administration, and went to UTS for these services.

Photo of Emory's School of MedicineIn its sixth month of this new reorganization, the School of Medicine has already seen progress: greater transparency through governance, more detailed data for decision making, and refactoring applications for improved security, usability, and functionality while keeping its strong customer service and operational excellency. Dr. Ray Dingledine, Executive Associate Dean for Research in the SOM, commented, "The reorganization is providing us with much better service and follows our model of consolidating infrastructure whenever possible. We don't want to reinvent every wheel on every car."

In FY12, the School will be utilizing the savings achieved by removing duplicative services and leveraging existing leadership and investing it in services and projects that are unique to the education, research, administrative, and service missions of the School.

Data Management

With millions of data records stored in hundreds of data sources across the clinical and academic environments, it is not easy for investigators to locate or even access the right data for their research. Investigators have often had to rely on abstracting data from paper or electronic records - a time-consuming, error-prone, and non-value added process.

Now R-WIT offers a variety of data management services to assist investigators with their data management needs. Using data sources such as the Clinical Data Warehouse, the Emory Tumor Registry, Social Security Death Index, as well as local, research-specific data sources, the Data Management team provides services to extract, map, and manage rich and extensive data sets used for the broad spectrum of research needs. The team has worked directly with Departments to develop and manage ongoing data management programs, with investigators to fulfill an Institutional Review Board (IRB) approved data request, and alongside biostatisticians to help create data repositories to store and manage data for their analysis.

Photo of Chemistry LibraryFor customers such as Dr. John Sweeney (Chief of General and GI Surgery at Emory University and Chief Quality Officer for the Department of Surgery), the Data Management Team's services have improved the efficiency and accuracy of data collection, and provided the ability to approach quality and research questions in novel ways. Addressing the question of how to decrease hospital readmission rates for surgery patients, John and his research team are focusing on the clinical characteristics of the patient leading up to a physician's decision to discharge a patient.

Using lab, vital, medication, and other clinical information from the electronic medical record, the research team is analyzing large datasets extracted by the data management team to create algorithms that determine a patient's likelihood of readmission. According to Sweeney, "Having access to this kind of information is critical to our ability to predict if a patient is ready for discharge from the hospital or is at high risk for readmission. Our research would not be at the stage that it is without these important data."

Electronic Data Capture Platform

There are a multitude of research solutions for electronic data capture across Emory University and Healthcare. Most researchers in the past had to use unreliable, inflexible and cumbersome data collection methods. In addition, data analysis was complicated by the lack of formats available that allowed statisticians to easily proceed with analysis.

REDCap and Feedback Server are two electronic data capture services now offered by R-WIT. They provide researchers with user-friendly, web-based, secure methods to streamline data collection and analysis. The Division works closely with researchers to guide them to set up and use these tools. There are now more than 60 studies using REDCap, and over 70 surveys using Feedback Server across campus.

Daniel Keeton, Sr. Research Coordinator, Children's Healthcare of Atlanta said, "REDCap and research are a perfect match! We have successfully used it for all data collection for our NIH funded, multi-site registry." Mary Laszlo, Research Project Coordinator, School of Nursing currently has multiple studies being managed and states, "REDCap has been a breeze to design and implement for our clinical studies at the School of Nursing. It's very intuitive and easy for our end users and fine tuning a study can happen even after the database goes into production."

Advancing the Missions

In FY12, Research and Health Sciences IT will continue to advance the core research and health science platforms and support faculty in their research and education. In both the research and the health science domains, FY12 will herald several exciting initiatives designed with and for faculty, staff, and students.

Marc Overcash
Deputy Chief Information Officer, Research and Woodruff Health Sciences IT

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"The Research Division of OIT has provided outstanding support to the research community this year, including support for clinical and translational research and in the implementation of informatics research applications."

Dr. David Stephens,
Vice President for Research, Robert W. Woodruff Health Sciences Center