For more than a decade, Mercy Technology Services, the IT division of St. Louis-based health system Mercy, has harnessed the power of data analytics to produce real-world evidence (RWE) for more informed patient care.

Since 2017, Mercy Technology Services has been working with drug and medical device manufacturers, extending RWE to enhance their research efforts. So, when the COVID-19 pandemic reached Mercy’s region spanning four states in the Midwest, this SAP partner was uniquely positioned to deliver the RWE that Mercy, its neighboring health systems, and manufacturers needed to help provide smarter care and the best outcomes.

Mercy Technology Services began building its data analytics capabilities through participation in the FDA-sponsored BUILD initiative, now Sentinel, which was established to improve how to evaluate longitudinal safety and efficacy of medical devices in real-world settings. Mercy has collected and analyzed electronic healthcare (EHR) data and developed tools to create visualizations of the real-world costs and outcomes of medical devices and supplies, such as sutures, stents, and implants.

In addition, Mercy has extended these new RWE capabilities to manufacturers to provide insights that help them study the real-world uses, effectiveness, benefits, and risks of medications and medical devices, accelerating innovation all along the product life cycle.

Mercy is also a pioneer in using natural language processing (NLP) in healthcare settings to capture data from doctors’ notes and patient records and create important new data sets to use in analysis.

Crucial Real-World Evidence in a Pandemic

When the pandemic began, Mercy was uniquely positioned to leverage its RWE, in part due to its partnership with SAP. To enable Mercy to create the analytics dashboards for this project, SAP provided SAP S/4HANA and SAP Analytics Cloud to Mercy at no cost for a brief time.

Mercy formed a COVID-19 task force made up of key Mercy leaders and used its dashboards to inform the task force and others within Mercy of critical capacity and inventory data as it faced the unprecedented challenge of managing a pandemic.

Mercy also participated in the St. Louis area’s regional task force. Mercy and neighboring healthcare systems agreed to share EHR data and perform analyses collectively. Because of Mercy’s leadership in healthcare analytics, it was also able to enter into an agreement to use statewide data from Missouri in its analysis.

Kerry Bommarito, Ph.D., director of Data Sciences for Mercy, explained that this strategy provided Mercy and its neighboring healthcare systems with a broader view of COVID-19. Data analytics based on both state and local data helped the region’s healthcare systems track current and projected needs for hospital and ICU beds, personal protective equipment (PPE), and medical supplies, including ventilators and drug therapies. The team also built epidemiological data models to predict surges of COVID-19 patients to ensure there were enough capacity and supplies to meet the projections.

Bommarito added, “Mercy also uses that data to do predictive modeling, such as the risk of mortality or the risk of the patient requiring a ventilator. We use that data at Mercy to indicate which patients are at low, medium, or high risk.”

She added that the dashboards created for COVID-19 insights also show the role a patient’s age plays. “Over the summer, cases were primarily in younger people, so even though cases increased, it didn’t immediately affect hospital admissions,” she explained. Additionally, Mercy worked with pediatricians in its region to keep them apprised of the case rates among children.

Powering RWE in the Future Through Partnerships

Throughout the development of the COVID-19 dashboards, Mercy considered how it would continue to provide COVID-19-related real-world evidence long after the height of the pandemic. Bommarito said, “Mercy’s general approach is that we believe we are going to move the needle in healthcare with our collaborations. Now that we have established unique capabilities, we see the opportunity to collaborate for the greater good, particularly across industries.”

“Collaborating with manufacturers informs the design and enhancement of pharmaceuticals and medical devices to optimize them for real-world scenarios. Clinical trial data is limited and only tells a narrow story of safety and effectiveness,” she explained. “We feel collaboration within and across our industry is where we’re really starting to break ground, innovate, and increase our power to create better, more informed healthcare.”

Currently, Mercy is working with a global manufacturer to provide insights that help identify risk factors for COVID-19 patients. These insights help better predict which patients will need certain treatment like respiratory support through ventilators and other oxygen support, how long they’ll require treatment, and the variables that help predict progression and mortality.

Bommarito added, “Given that COVID-19 vaccines are in their end stages of clinical trials, which have limited sample sizes, we’re also anticipating the need for near real-time, real-world evidence related to those vaccines. These insights will help manufacturers validate the safety and effectiveness of their products once they’re in use in clinical settings, as well as inform healthcare providers of the various COVID-19 treatment protocols and their outcomes.”

Bommarito feels that collaborations are key to meaningful RWE from data analytics. Mercy has worked on this project with clinicians, statisticians, and epidemiologists from neighboring healthcare systems as well as manufacturers’ data scientists and tech experts at SAP.

“It’s a good strategy to work with the best and brightest because it raises your game,” she said. “Hopefully, our work will lead to more groundbreaking insights to inform providers to prepare for changes, adapt how they treat patients, and improve outcomes.”

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