CHRI taps Dr. Kerns to improve research through informatics

Ellen Kerns, PhD

Ellen Kerns, PhD

Members of the Child Health Research Institute will receive a new source of technical support for their research projects following the recent appointment of Ellen Kerns, PhD, as director of research informatics.

Dr. Kerns earned her PhD in biomedical informatics from UNMC in 2021, and she currently serves as an assistant professor in the division of child health policy within the UNMC Department of Pediatrics and as a data scientist at Children’s Hospital & Medical Center.

Her role at CHRI will be to assist researchers by improving their projects through informatics — the study of the organization and use of information. Informatics empowers scientists to use technology and data most efficiently in their research endeavors.

“Improvement can take the form of automating a process that had been done manually,” Dr. Kerns said. “It can also be through assistance with the usage and management of data.”

Plans for the research informatics group call for Dr. Kerns to lead a team of three: a data navigator who will assist researchers in identifying data resources of value to their projects, a database coordinator who will serve as a resource for using the EPIC electronic health record system for research projects and a data analyst who will aid researchers in formatting their data to match the standards of national data repositories.

CHRI members will be linked to appropriate assistance from this team when they submit a request for study support via the CHRI Pediatric Research Office’s online intake form.

“There will be many occasions when researchers will not realize that their projects could be improved by informatics until we let them know,” Dr. Kerns said.

Dr. Kerns has been using her expertise on projects on a case-by-case basis. Recently, Dr. Kerns was called in to help with a retrospective research study that was requiring its investigators to spend hours reviewing medical charts. Dr. Kerns identified that much of the data they were searching for in the charts could be pooled and extracted from the electronic health record system. In another study in which Dr. Kerns was the primary investigator, she was able to automate the study participant registration and follow-up process.

In these instances, the streamlining that took place through informatics enabled the study personnel to apply their efforts to more meaningful aspects of the research. Using automation also eliminates inevitable human transcription errors.

The value of Dr. Kern’s new role is that it will allow her to apply her knowledge to studies institute-wide.

Dr. Kern’s team will help CHRI researchers capitalize on multi-institutional data sources that are already available through Children’s and UNMC.

Dr. Kerns said, “We hope to lower the bar to accessing things like clinical registries, where we’re contributing local data but we’re not necessarily using it yet. This team will help people use existing data sources to generate collaborative publications as well as preliminary data and enrollment feasibility for extramural grants.”

CHRI is among the first UNMC entities to invest in a role of this kind, and its leaders are excited for the impact that Dr. Kerns and her team will have.

Ann Anderson Berry, MD, PhD, CHRI executive director said, “At CHRI, we want to help our members work smarter, not harder, and I believe this role will empower our scientists to pursue more and larger opportunities.”


  1. Lisa Runco says:

    We are so thrilled to have Dr. Kerns at CHRI and look forward to her building a team that will assist our child health investigators.

  2. Janet Rogers says:

    How exciting and well-deserved! Congrats!

  3. Carol Gilbert says:

    This role is a great idea and Dr. Kerns is perfect for it. This will make her even more of an asset to CHRI.

  4. Jessica Ehule says:

    Many congratulations Dr. Kerns! Well-deserved!

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