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The Catalyst

Campus' first chief research information officer welcomed

By Mikie Hayes
Public Relations

As an academic medical center, MUSC strives to remain at the forefront of innovative enterprises, programs and technology. “Enterprise Architecture” represents one such way.

On the vanguard of what is now becoming a nationwide trend, Mark Sothmann, Ph.D., interim MUSC president and provost, sought last year to recruit a chief research information officer to design and implement an integrated research — IT infrastructure to coordinate MUSC research and clinical efforts.

On Dec. 2, Leslie (Les) A. Lenert, M.D., M.S., was welcomed as MUSC's first chief research Information officer (CRIO), SmartState Endowed Chair in Medical Bioinformatics and professor of internal medicine. Lenert and his wife, Kate, who serves as the MUSC director of state authorizations for distance education, join MUSC from the University of Utah.

Lenert brings a 20–year history of research and development work in informatics and predictive analytics to MUSC. Having served as the founding director of the National Center for Public Health Informatics at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, he managed the development of key national biodefense computer systems.

As a practicing primary care physician, Lenert will see scheduled patients at MUSC one half–day each week. In addition, he will work closely with Health Sciences South Carolina, as well as the South Carolina Clinical and Translational Research Institute, providing expertise and leadership in the areas of bio-informatics and enterprise architecture to both endeavors.

Kathleen T. Brady, M.D., Ph.D., director of the SCTR, said, “Dr. Lenert brings an extraordinary level of expertise and broad experience in bioinformatics and medical informatics to MUSC.  His contributions will move the campus forward in using the vast amounts of data available from a variety of sources to drive improvements in health care delivery and patient outcomes.”

The CRIO is a relatively new position that has emerged over the last few years. In 2012, for instance, there were only three located throughout the United States, according to Peter J. Embi, M.D., CRIO, Wexner Medical Center. Today, there are still less than a dozen of these highly sought-after bioinformatics experts at top medical institutions throughout the United States, but numerous national recruitments are underway.

“MUSC is ahead of the curve in biomedical informatics,” said Lenert. “Dr. Sothmann is a visionary. He saw the merit in integrating this new area of science into our rich research infrastructure. By taking an enterprise-wide view of the current flow of information and technology, we can ensure clinical information is more useful to research efforts so we generate research that is more useful. This will ultimately lead to better health outcomes for our patients.”

To make new discoveries and quickly translate them to the bedside, Lenert believes researchers must have access to the right information at the right time. He and his team will design solutions to ensure vital patient information and multi–disciplinary research data is continually collected, methodically organized and quantitatively analyzed, and available for immediate use by researchers and clinicians. Even students will benefit as this source of real–time information provides opportunities for them to learn in a new model.

“Today, research dollars are stretched to their limits and therefore all systems must do double or triple duty, supporting the management of populations as well as helping provide new insights into disease. It really is all about ‘Changing What is Possible,’” Lenert said. “Overall, the goal of the office of the CRIO is to support MUSC’s translational research program and to work closely with our researchers, clinicians and IT professionals to accelerate the use of evidence–based medicine to create new models of health care delivery for the betterment of patient health.”

If innovations are the engine for growth, then “Changing What’s Possible” is the engine’s catalyst. For Lenert, MUSC’s commitment to that philosophy was the chief reason he accepted the position. “MUSC has great scientific programs: heart, addictions, cancer, among others,” Lenert said. “Now we have to look across systems to see gaps, bottlenecks, and silos, and provide a working health system. We must work collaboratively and change behaviors in an effort to transform data to information and information to knowledge. This design will allow us to more fully understand the specific needs of the patient and make health care more patient–centric and improve population health.”

Lenert’s mantra is “actionable information is integrated information.” Enterprise architecture connects the dots between databases, clinical programs and research initiatives here at MUSC to create the working system that changes what is possible. When the right processes, tools, and data are strategically integrated, biomedical information architects can deliver an effective system. “Translational research — bench-to-bedside collaboration — has allowed research conducted in the laboratory to be directly used to develop new ways to treat patients. Through the use of medical bioinformatics, the process comes full circle,” Lenert said. “By managing and processing data to improve and facilitate research and clinical care, the process becomes bench–to–bedside and vice-versa which accelerates innovations and allows researchers to refine their hypotheses and get results back to the bedside more rapidly.”

MUSC is greatly contributing to the creation of learning systems across the state, Lenert said. In addition to his role as CRIO, Lenert will also serve as the chief medical informatics officer at Health Sciences South Carolina, the nation's first statewide biomedical research collaborative. Approximately 30 percent of his time will be spent developing a statewide learning system through HSSC. MUSC is one of nine member institutions involved in the project and serves as the technical arm, supplying technology informatics that allows the system to run, according to Lenert. HSSC is a central repository for research and houses data from 70 percent of South Carolina’s hospital beds in their clinical data warehouse. “Health Sciences South Carolina is an extraordinary resource for the state,” said Lenert.

Lenert credits MUSC leaders for their foresight in recognizing the need for specialized collaborative translational research efforts across the state, in addition to the incorporation of medical bio-informatics to support those efforts. “Drs. Sothmann, Brady, and Greenberg have all shown tremendous leadership and wisdom in taking the steps necessary to ultimately change what’s possible — not just for MUSC, but for the state of South Carolina.”

January 23, 2014

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