The Role of Health Informatics in Pain Management

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The PMC’s work groups provide guidance for researchers in selecting appropriate tools and software, defining common measures and executing plans so the data is optimally and securely collected and stored for query and analysis. 

Today, research and medicine is data intensive.  Health informatics brings information to the fingertips of clinician-researchers and practicing clinicians to help with evidence-based care recommendations and improve patient outcomes. Within the Pain Management Collaboratory (PMC), clinical research informatics supports researchers in collecting data from patient surveys and the electronic health record (EHR), storing and organizing it securely, and accessing it for analysis.  The results of these studies can help provide evidence-based recommendations for nonpharmacological approaches to pain management.

“The pragmatic clinical trials in the Collaboratory collect data from patients within the clinical environment.  In order to accomplish this you need to have people with the skills and the knowledge who can help guide researchers and recommend different tools that help them collect, extract, and turn data into useful information,” explains Cynthia Brandt, MD, MPH, one of the three PMC directors and Director of Yale Center for Medical Informatics.

Informaticians help investigators develop systems to store data on enrolled study participants, starting with data workflows to ensure the right tools are employed for data collection and usage. This is where clinical research informatics and PMC’s own work groups come in. The PMC’s Biostatistics and Study Design, Data Sharing, and Electronic Health Record (EHR) work groups provide guidance for researchers in selecting appropriate tools and software, defining common measures and executing plans so the data is optimally and securely collected and stored for query and analysis.

Even though the eleven studies in the Collaboratory are all aligned with a common theme of chronic pain management for military service members and veterans, there are challenges in syndication of data collected from surveys and/or the electronic health record (EHR) from many different healthcare settings. The Departments of Defense (DoD) and Veterans Affairs (VA) have their own long-established EHR and Data Warehouse environments and are both in the process of migrating to a new EHR. During this migration most, if not all, data elements that are collected will undergo changes in where they are stored in the new EHR and how they are named as well as how they will be represented in the data warehouses.

Health informatics can help bridge the gap in understanding data that will be used in the PMC coming from new systems to assure that longitudinal studies will not be adversely affected. By leveraging the expertise of health informatics experts in the DoD and VA environments in the EHR, Biostatistics and Study Design, and Data Sharing work groups, the PMC’s pragmatic trials can help evaluate new approaches to pain management and improve upon evidence-based recommendations for managing chronic pain.