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Cores : Electronic Health Records
NIH Collaboratory Cores and Working Groups


Electronic Health Records

Co-Chairs: Jeff Brown, Lesley Curtis

Advisor: Richard Platt

NIH Representative: Barbara Wells

Members: Nick Anderson, Alan Bauck, Pedro Gozalo, Susan Huang, Brett Moran, Jon Puro, Erik Van Eaton, Ferdinand Velasco, Wolfgang Winkelmayer

Project Manager: Beth Syat

To learn more, visit the DRN website:

NIH Collaboratory Distributed Research Network
Millions of People. Strong Collaborations. Privacy First.

The ability to harness electronic health data is transforming the way clinical research is conducted. The Electronic Health Records (EHR) Core’s goal is to facilitate multisite research collaborations between investigators and data stewards by creating secure networking capabilities and analysis tools. The Core also develops policies and practices to govern the responsible use of these resources.

The EHR Core has established the NIH Collaboratory Distributed Research Network (DRN), which allows investigators to collaborate in the use of clinical data while safeguarding protected health information and proprietary data. The DRN enables authorized researchers to send queries to collaborators. In some cases, queries are computer programs that a data partner can execute on a pre-existing dataset. The data partner can return the query result, rather than the actual data. This form of remote querying reduces legal, regulatory, privacy, proprietary, and technical barriers associated with data sharing for research.

By facilitating knowledge exchange without requiring a massive data warehousing effort, the DRN combines local control and security with the power that can be achieved from large datasets. All data queries are opt-in; in other words, data partners can choose whether to accept a query and execute it.

The DRN uses the PopMedNet software application and complies with the standards for distributed querying supported by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology’s Query Health Initiative and adopted by other research collaborations, including Mini-Sentinel. The DRN supports both single-site and multisite research projects.

Its capabilities include the following:

​Query/Use ​       Explanation

​Assessing disease burden and outcomes

  • ​Estimate the frequency of conditions or patterns of care
  • Example: determine frequency and duration of insulin pump use and characterize the individuals who use them
Pragmatic clinical trial design​
  • ​Assess baseline rate of events of interest
  • Identify organizations with enough potential study participants
  • Identify potential study participants within an organization
​Pragmatic clinical trial follow-up
  • ​Scan electronic data of study participants for outcomes of interest
  • Examples: prescription medications dispensed, inpatient and ambulatory medical encounters
  • Information may include medications, dates, diagnoses, procedures, etc.
​Allowing reuse of research data
  • ​An investigator who has created a clinically rich research dataset can authorize an investigator at another organization to submit analytic programs
  • Depending on the analysis, the output need not contain patient identifiers
​Establishing a private network for a multicenter study
  • The Collaboratory Coordinating Center can establish a private distributed network to send out programs that create separate analysis files at each site
  • Analysis files are securely transferred to the analyst


For more information on the NIH Collaboratory DRN and the process for submitting queries, visit the DRN website.




Jeffrey Brown, PhD, of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Institute and Harvard Medical School discusses
the NIH Collaboratory’s Distributed Research Network (DRN).

Products and Publications

Zozus MN, et al. AMIA Jt Summits Transl Sci Proc 2016

NIH Collaboratory Distributed Research Network User's Guide, v5.0 (PDF)

NIH Collaboratory Distributed Research Network


DRN Governance, v1.0 

NIH Collaboratory Distributed Research Network: PopMedNet-i2b2 Integration Proof of Concept Report

PopMedNet-i2b2 Integration Proof of Concept Video


3/11/2016: Grand Rounds Presentation: Uses of the NIH Collaboratory Distributed Research Network (Video; Slides)

6/5/2015: Grand Rounds Presentation: NIH Collaboratory Distributed Research Network (Video; Slides)

11/14/2014: Grand Rounds Presentation: Using the NIH Collaboratory's and PCORnet's Distributed Data Networks for Clinical Trials and Observational Research: A Preview (Video; Slides)

8/19/2014: Electronic Health Records Core Presentation at Steering Committee Meeting 

6/13/2014: Grand Rounds Presentation: The NIH Collaboratory Distributed Research Network: A Privacy Protecting Method for Sharing Research Data Sets (Video; Slides)

2/25/2014: EHR Core Presentation at Steering Committee Meeting

2/24/2014: Distributed Research Network Presentation at Steering Committee Meeting

1/10/2014: Grand Rounds Presentation: Incorporating Research Driven Changes into Health Care Systems' IT Operati​ons: A Multi Perspective Panel Discussion (Video; Slides)

9/13/2013: Grand Rounds Presentation: The NIH Distributed Research Network: New Functionality and Future Potential (Video; Slides)

3/26/2013: EHR Core Webinar: Using EHRs to Extract Information, Query Clinicians, and Insert Reports

3/15/2013: Grand Rounds Presentation: NIH Distributed Research Network (Video; Slides)


7/15/2013: Large Data Networks: Important Tools for Public Health and Research Needs 

5/9/2013: Richard Platt to Present Paper at Annual Meeting of Society for Clinical Trials


9/22/2014: Dr. Lesley Curtis Discusses the Distributed Research Network 

3/27/2014: Drs. Lesley Curtis and Jeff Brown Discuss the Distributed Research Network 

10/23/2012: Dr. Rich Platt Gives an Overview of the EHR Core and Distributed Research Network

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