CHIP Joins Forces with Northwestern Medicine Enterprise Data Warehouse and Infectious Diseases Division to Create COVID-19 Registry in Record Speed

Since this pandemic began in March, researchers, physicians, and data scientists and analysts around the world have mobilized in unprecedented ways to do what they can to lessen the impact on COVID-19 on our communities. CHIP Associate Director Theresa Walunas, PhD, recently witnessed this mobilization firsthand, as she collaborated with members of the Northwestern Medicine Enterprise Data Warehouse (NMEDW) and the Department of Medicine Division of Infectious Diseases to create a COVID-19 data mart for observational research on treatment and outcomes.

Anna Pawlowski, NMEDW Senior Data Analyst, has a long-established history of collaborating with Chad J Achenbach, MD, MPH, of the Northwestern Medicine Department of Medicine, Division of Infectious Diseases. Leveraging their prior experience working together on HIV-related research projects for the Third Coast Center for AIDS Research, the team acquired a COVID-19-relevant dataset in a matter of days. Anna pulled together the necessary elements, NMEDW Data Architect Prasanth Nannapaneni ensured the data was properly de-identified, and Dr. Achenbach curated the data, which could then be analyzed to understand the NM response, care provided, and COVID-19 disease outcomes.

“Thanks to the administrative work of the CHIP and IPHAM teams, the essential chart review done across the Infectious Diseases team, the data mart construction work of the NMEDW, and the informatics and review collaboration, the team delivered the essential data in less than a week,” said Theresa Walunas. “The speed and efficiency of the work demonstrated incredible teamwork to support innovative science.”

Although the team collaborated with ease and efficiency, the task was not easy. The team quickly obtained IRB approval, determined the COVID-19 population across all of NM, compiled EDW datasets from clinical care, processed these data into analyzable datasets, and de-identified datasets, which included elements relevant to the COVID-19 research, including oxygen saturation and ventilator use. To anonymize the data, the team assigned random patient identification numbers and applied a technique of shifting all dates. This de-identification process maintains necessary longitudinal information that enables researchers to measure how a patient’s condition progressed from day-to-day, while preserving protected health information (PHI). Despite these challenges, the team delivered the necessary data in under a week as part of a nation-wide collaborative study to understand clinical care outcomes of COVID-19 patients as a form of “control” population for those who received remdesivir in clinical trials.

“It was amazing to see what happens when you have a historical relationship with the EDW: you can pivot to other things,” said NMEDW Manager Daniel Schneider. “You can do this from both an ethical perspective, as well as from a data perspective. This type of work would otherwise be extremely difficult to do so quickly and efficiently.”

The resource developed will contribute immediately to crucial COVID-19 research, but also enhances local COVID-19 research capacity for years to come—more specific project details will be released at a later date.

“This is just the beginning, “ said Dr. Achenbach. “With this early work, we have established tremendous assets for clinical research.  Both for performing observational research and executing interventional clinical trials on COVID-19 at Northwestern Medicine.  We already have plans to pair these data with specimen biobanks for virology and genetics research.”

Northwestern Medicine Enterprise Data Warehouse (NMEDW) was designed to create a single, comprehensive and integrated repository of all clinical and research data sources on the campus to facilitate research, clinical quality, healthcare operations and medical education. To learn more about collaborating with the Northwestern Medicine NMEDW, visit their webpage, housed on at the Northwestern University Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute (NUCATS) site.


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