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Aaron Sorensen is director of informatics at Temple University School of Medicine of Philadelphia, PA.

Tell me about your job.

I’m at Temple University at the School of Medicine with an affiliated health system. Our new leadership is keen on creating a robust infrastructure to support clinical research. I’m heading up the informatics aspects of that.

What is the informatics influence in the School of Medicine?

Within the health system, you have the IT shop that runs a myriad of clinical systems. There’s a feeling from the researchers that all this data exists, but it’s hard to get at. What do you do with it once you have it? What are the appropriate safeguards regarding compliance and privacy?

The School of Medicine is trying to make it so that every time a clinical researcher wants to ask a question of the clinical data, it doesn’t become a maze that you get lost in, with different people are telling you different things. There’s this straightforward way to do it and you can go to a central team of people that will guide you through the path and help you along your way.

Describe how PCORnet came about and what it does.

My understanding is that over 10 years ago, when the NIH was originally thinking about redoing the way they fund clinical research extramurally at academic medical centers, the PCORnet idea was floated. The feeling was that it would be costly and it would be hard to achieve. They had other priorities, so instead of doing that, they funded the CTSA awards.

PCORI, the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute, is not a federal organization, but it’s funded through the Affordable Care Act. It’s federal dollars, but it itself is a independent non-profit. The feeling was that it was worth pursuing the idea of creating a network of hospitals that have the ability to share de-identified patient data for the purposes of clinical research.

Although they have grants that fund all different kind of things, just like the NIH does, I believe the crown jewel within the PCORI portfolio is PCORnet. It has 29 funded groups, some of which focus more on general health system patient populations, whereas others are more focused on particular patient groups with specific diseases.

What Temple systems are contributing data to PCORnet?

In terms of our electronic medical record, we’ve been on Epic outpatient for about three years. We’re just now kicking off the project to go with Epic inpatient. Epic, as most EMRs, receives a number of feeds from different systems. When you get to the back-end Epic reporting database, you not only have the data that originated in Epic, but from a number of different systems.

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