Challenges and Opportunities
The potential benefits notwithstanding, an undertaking such as G-DOC is not without its challenges, including the limited resources and significant learning curve associated with any project of this scope. According to Madhavan, the most significant of those challenges thus far have been those related to data sharing. She said, “Clinicians and researchers still hold their data close to their hearts, and need to be incentivized (with tools, grants, etc) to make their data available through G-DOC.” The other major challenge identified by Madhavan lies in convincing physician scientists of the benefits of G-DOC. “While there are plenty of forward-looking clinicians who actually ‘get it,’ many physician scientists want to continue to manage their data in Excel spreadsheets,” she said.
Another major challenge posed by the data integration inherent in G-DOC is the wide variety of data sources that need to be combined into the single unified database. As a result, Madhavan and her team must laboriously match fields in 1 database to those in another, all the while ensuring the consistency of hundreds of factors, such as units of measurement and timing. Assisting with these efforts is Indivumed, which will provide a wide range of biospecimen data to add to the clinical databases at Georgetown Lombardi.
As with any endeavor that involves information sharing, Georgetown Lombardi scientists are extremely mindful of the ethical and legal requirements for confidentiality inherent in a project such as G-DOC. All studies are, of course, conducted with IRB approval, and can move forward in real time without accessing personal patient information.
“There’s no denying the complexity of this endeavor,” said Weiner, “but G-DOC represents the commitment of Georgetown Lombardi scientists and clinicians to address that complexity rather than run from it.”
Laura Bruck is a Cleveland, Ohio-based freelance writer and editor who has specialized in healthcare reporting since 1987.