Indiana’s secret weapon in the fight against COVID-19

INDIANAPOLIS (WANE) — The Regenstrief Institute might be better known around the world than in its home state of Indiana, despite playing a key role to help Hoosiers combat COVID-19.

Actually, Regenstrief’s work helped the entire globe.

The organization headquartered near Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis is affiliated with the IU Medical School. Their decades-old “LOINC” system (Logical Observation Identifiers, Names and Codes) allows researchers, hospitals, governments, insurance companies and smart phone users to share health data across systems. It unites siloed health data into the same language.

In January, 2020, Regenstrief worked with global partners to establish codes to allow COVID-19 data to be shared across the world.

“Were it not for the development of those codes,” said Regenstrief President and CEO Dr. Peter Embí, “we would not have been able to know as quickly how the laboratory tests results were, what they showed and how they were flowing.”

At home, Regenstrief researchers who teach at the Indiana University Richard M. Fairbanks School of Public Health answered the call from the Indiana Department of Health to conduct a statewide prevalence study of COVID during the early days of the pandemic.

“That statewide prevalence study was critical to the decisions that both the Governor was making as well as local health departments,” said Brian Dixon, Ph.D. Dixon is both an associate professor at the Fairbanks School of Public Health and Director of Public Health Informatics for Regenstrief.

“We didn’t understand how many people at that time were infected or how extensive infection was across the state,” Dixon added “That’s really what that early study provided us. It allowed us to look at the penetration of this disease in the population.”

Prior to the pandemic, Dixon compiled numbers on obesity, diabetes and chronic diseases. He was taken aback when COVID-19 numbers became political.

“What surprised me the most was the reaction of people, the dismissiveness of the numbers and then the mistrust in it,” he said. “Because here we were working so hard to gather accurate data from as many places as possible, bring it all together and make up the state’s dashboard. Then to have a lot of people say, ‘Oh, they’re just making up numbers’ or ‘this is not the truth.’

“Well, this is as close to the truth as we can get.”

When asked if Regenstrief is Indiana’s secret weapon vs. COVID-19, Embí deflects.

“I wouldn’t say that we were the only thing. We contributed but to be perfectly frank, it wouldn’t have happened without a team effort. I think we were a critical part of that. And I don’t want to sound immodest, but I do think we played a really, really important role and there’s no question that that helped set us apart. We’re really proud to have been recognized by the governor and by Dr. Box for our contributions. But the truth of the matter is, in Indiana, we have such an incredibly collaborative place where Hoosiers come together to help each other. That’s really the secret sauce. That’s really the secret weapon.”