The Regenstrief Institute in Indianapolis and the schools of medicine and public health at Indiana University are using a five-year grant from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to study the long-term effects of COVID-19. The grant, expected to total $9 million, will fund both the analysis of data from electronic health records and follow individuals over time to detect trends related to what is known as “long COVID.”
Shaun Grannis, vice president for data and analytics at Regenstrief, tells Inside INdiana Business that even though COVID has been around for nearly three years, there is still much to learn.
“We need to better understand the longer-term impacts of this virus; it certainly wreaked havoc on our respiratory systems and others,” said Grannis. “And we’re not just talking about respiratory issues; we’ve seen some preliminary data, very tiny studies, that have suggested that there might be cardiovascular effects. There might be kidney effects, and we’re also seeing some mental health, behavioral health concerns as well.”
IU says the initiative will develop one of the first comprehensive, population-based surveillance systems for long COVID in the country.
The partners will utilize the Indiana Network for Patient Care, which was created by Regenstrief and is managed by the Indiana Health Information Exchange, to mine data from electronic health records to estimate the incidence and prevalence of persistent COVID symptoms.
Additionally, the data will be used to measure the burden and outcomes of long COVID on different populations.
“Electronic health record data is obviously collected for the care of individuals, but it’s also very useful in research as well,” said Grannis. “What we’ll be doing is, over time, we’ll be monitoring that data. We have a view of a much larger population through electronic health record data than the smaller population that we’ll be capturing through the patient recruitment.”
Grannis, who is also a professor of family medicine at Indiana University School of Medicine, emphasizes that the study will look at EHR data over time without knowing the identity of the individuals from whom the data is collected.
The other part of the study involves enrolling children, adolescents and adults to track their cases of COVID and their individual outcomes.
“We believe that the data will help us identify the most affected groups and geographic regions with higher disease burden, discern where health disparities exist and highlight potential barriers to care,” Regenstrief Institute Center for Biomedical Informatics Interim Director Brian Dixon said in written remarks. “What we learn from Indiana will hopefully lead to innovative approaches for monitoring and treating post-COVID conditions nationally.”
Grannis says after the five-year study is complete, the researchers hope to feel confident they are getting good information on what’s happening with those with long COVID issues “and with that information, we’re able to help treat, manage, mitigate or ameliorate whatever issues people are going through.”
IU says the grant will also support the training of junior scientists preparing to join the public health workforce with skills in public health informatics and data science.