The National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced June 15 that it has launched a new data analytics platform to track COVID-19 patient data.

In a statement, NIH described the platform as a “centralized, secure enclave to store and study vast amounts of medical record data from people diagnosed with coronavirus disease across the country.” The platform is part of a larger effort – dubbed the National COVID Cohort Collaborative (N3C) – which is intended to help scientists analyze patient data to better understand COVID-19 and develop treatments.

“This effort aims to transform clinical information into knowledge urgently needed to study COVID-19, including health risk factors that indicate better or worse outcomes of the disease, and identify potentially effective treatments,” NIH said.

Funding for N3C comes from the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS), which is part of NIH. After collecting the clinical information, the initiative will use the data platform to “harmonize the aggregated information into a standard format and make it available rapidly for researchers and healthcare providers,” NIH explained. A public demonstration of the platform is currently available for those interested in seeing how it works.

“NCATS initially supported the development of this innovative collaborative technology platform to speed the process of understanding the course of diseases, and identifying interventions to effectively treat them,” said NCATS Director Christopher P. Austin, M.D. “This platform was deployed to stand up this important COVID-19 effort in a matter of weeks, and we anticipate that it will serve as the foundation for addressing future public health emergencies.”

To access the data users will have to be approved. NIH said that the data being provided to NCATS is a “Limited Data Set (LDS) that retains only two of 18 HIPAA-defined elements: health care provider zip code and dates of service.”

NCATS is serving as the “steward” of the data and has undertaken multiple security and privacy measures, including user registration, federated login, data use agreements with institutions, and data use requests with users. The data will reside in NCATS’ cloud-based database, which was certified through the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program. Approved users must analyze that data within NCAT’s platform. Additionally, the N3C data is only available for research purposes.

While the goal is to help develop treatments and clinical recommendations in the short-term, NIH said that contributing sites, of which there are currently 35, will continue to add demographics, symptoms, medications, lab test results, and outcomes data regularly over a five-year period. This type of contribution will enable the long-term study of the impact of COVID-19 on health outcomes.

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Kate Polit
Kate Polit
Kate Polit is MeriTalk's Assistant Copy & Production Editor covering the intersection of government and technology.