To improve healthcare, Washington University makes a big bet on big data

Estimated reading time: 4 minute(s)

An introduction at the 2017 GlobalSTL Health Innovation Summit turned into a multi-million dollar partnership between Washington University and Israeli Health Startup MDClone. Here’s what it means for the St. Louis region — and the future of healthcare. 

Data is the lifeblood of innovation in healthcare.

Data determines how we treat patients, cure diseases, and run our hospitals and clinics more effectively.

So it’s not surprising that researchers, when considering what institution to move to, almost always start by asking the same two questions:

  1. What data will I be able to access?
  2. How quickly can I get access to it?

As biomedical informatician, data scientist, and entrepreneur, I am proud to be a key player in the data-driven healthcare transformation underway at Washington University and throughout the nation. The changes are being led by informaticians and data scientists and represent a complete reimagining of the way we engage in healthcare education, research, and practice.

Starting this month, my answer to the talented researchers and faculty we are recruiting to St. Louis is: yes, you will have access to data – immediately, in real time.

Real-time, anonymous patient data

Last week, the Institute for Informatics (I2) at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis signed a strategic partnership with MDClone, an Israeli startup that has successfully tackled the difficult challenge of making data accessible while fully protecting patient privacy.

From left, Philip Payne, director of the Institute for Informatics at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis; Daniel Blumenthal, MDClone; Donn Rubin, President & CEO of BioSTL and founder of GlobalSTL. Photo: GlobalSTL via israel21c.org

How does MDClone do it?

Their solution creates a replica of your information – without any trace of the actual you. MDClone creates unique “synthetic data” that mirrors actual data. As the data are no longer connected to the real-life patient, we can bypass the time-consuming and complex regulatory approvals needed to access identifiable patient data.

Making data safe, accurate and accessible — while still protecting patient privacy and confidentiality — has stumped the healthcare industry for years. Healthcare systems sit on a vast and ever-expanding amount of data but have a limited ability to derive meaningful insights because of these types of challenges.

Lack of data access holds back advances that can improve patient care and streamline hospital or clinic operations.

MDClone’s solution is unprecedented. We have never seen a technology that protects patient confidentiality like this, while making data available in real-time, ever before.

MDClone’s platform enables researchers and clinicians alike to access data from across the entire healthcare delivery environment. They can get answers in minutes and mouse-clicks (not weeks, months or even years) with unidentifiable synthetic data that can be used to accurately answer even the most complex healthcare questions.

It’s simple: if we know more, we can do more.

MDClone’s system allows healthcare systems to democratize data, making it a strategic and renewable asset, such that every patient encounter becomes an opportunity to learn and improve patients’ care, their families’ care, and the care that their community receives, all through the power of what we call a ‘rapid learning healthcare system.’

Drawing and retaining talent

The partnership between Washington University and MDClone is more than just an exciting development for our academic health center; it is also a game changer – for all of St. Louis.

MDClone’s platform gives us a tremendous competitive advantage by putting the combination of artificial intelligence, machine learning and computing tools right in the hands of healthcare innovators.

Being first in the nation to have access to this type of technology gives us a unique advantage as a delivery system, as an academic health center, and to our partners throughout the entire region.

We’re building a data ecosystem in St. Louis where innovators and companies will come to partner with Washington University and BJC to advance their research and development and bring healthcare solutions that are proven to address the needs of patients and care providers to the market.

Doubling down on digital healthcare growth

Our region is reaching a critical mass of institutions and startups in the digital healthcare space.

BioSTL and its GlobalSTL initiative have been central to building the innovation environment, and Washington University has been working to double down on that success.

My team and I experienced our real watershed moment at the GlobalSTL Health Innovation Summit last June, where we were introduced to the MDClone platform.

We realized that MDClone could help us accelerate research, improve patient care – and give our patients greater confidence that their data is being kept confidential and private.

A Magnet for Top Talent

Access to data influences the decisions of top researchers and innovators about where to live and work. They want to work wherever they’ll have the best data to fuel their work – and with the acquisition of MDClone, that means St. Louis.

That is a powerful tool for our region – and it is fuel for startups as well.

The kind of data access we can offer to our researchers, clinicians, and partners can help to create and attract new companies developing cutting edge solutions to take to market. As those companies find success, they create new jobs that employ people in the region and generate snowballing economic impact.

You can’t build an artificial intelligence solution, a cognitive computing solution, a machine learning solution in healthcare if you don’t have data. It’s the most fundamental building block. And now, we can provide it in St. Louis – quickly, safely, and responsibly. This is the future of data-driven healthcare transformation, and we are creating it here in St. Louis, first.