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Reflections on the Road to the Symposium

(Patrick Ryan) #1

Last year, 437 individuals, hailing from 15 different countries and 29 states, representing 118 different organizations, from academia and government and health systems and payers and the medical product industry, and technology providers, with backgrounds in computer science and epidemiology and health policy and informatics and clinical sciences and statistics, descended upon Bethesda MD to take part in the 2017 OHDSI Symposium. For many, it was part of their now-annual tradition, in learning from and contributing to an open science collaborative that is committed to improving health by empowering a community to collaboratively generate the evidence that promotes better health decisions and better care. For 193 attendees, they were ‘new to OHDSI and curious to learn more’, and the Symposium offered great exposure to the community and provided opportunities to engage and join the journey.

Now I bet at least some of you are wondering: “How in the world does OHDSI manage to pull off hosting an annual meeting, one that keeps getting bigger and better each year, while still keeping it free and accessible to the entire community to meaningful engage and participate?”

In short, it takes a community to support a community.

That’s why I want to thank those who have volunteered to be a part of the 2018 OHDSI Symposium organizing committee:
Alex Asiimwe, Ana Szarfman , Andrew Williams , Anthony Reckard , Christian Reich , Christophe Lambert , Chunhua Weng , Hanieh Razzaghi , Jill Hardin , Kristin Feeney , Laura Hester, Lisa Schilling , Marc Suchard , Meghan Nairn , Melanie Philofsky , Mui Van Zandt , Pavithra Rallapalli , Sigfried Gold

I also want to thank Maura Beaton and Elisse Katzman for leading this committee on behalf of the community.

So what does the Symposium Organizing Committee do? They make the magic happen…

Take for example, what they’ve already accomplished to date in 2018.

  1. They decided that there will indeed be a 2018 OHDSI Symposium! (yay!)
  2. They agreed on the structure and the dates: The 2018 OHDSI Symposium will be held Tuesday, September 18, with tutorials offered the day before (Mon, Sept17) and the day after (Wed, Sept19) the main event.
  3. They secured the venue: the 2018 OHDSI Symposium will be held in Bethesda, MD at the Bethesda North Marriott (the same location as last year’s event was held).

They also have started important work to discuss how we get enough financial support through sponsorships and donations to again make the OHDSI Symposium freely available to the everyone who is interested. Columbia University, as OHDSI’s central coordinating center, is again formally hosting the OHDSI Symposium, but it is only possible to pull it off through the generous contributions of the individuals and organization within the community to make the vision a reality.

Over the several months, the committee will be deciding and executing on various topics, like:

-Tutorials - decide on topics and nominate and recruit faculty
-Define meeting agenda - decide on topics and presenters

  • Collaborator showcase - decide on format, solicit community for contributions, and moderate sessions
  • Peer review of community contributions - abstracts for posters, software demos, lightning talks
  • Raising awareness of the event within your community, ensuring we have all stakeholders adequately represented amongst the participants

From now until 18 Sept 2018, you’ll be hearing from members of the organizing committee about their experiences, lessons learned, and teasers to get you jazzed up on the road the 2018 OHDSI Symposium. We look forward to having you all join us on this journey!

(Maura Beaton) #2

Every year as the annual symposium approaches, we inevitably get a few stunned participants asking “wait… this is free?”.

The answer “Yes!”

Since 2015, the OHDSI symposium has been free! This makes it possible for anyone interested in learning more about OHDSI to attend the symposium with minimal financial constraints (symposium participants are responsible for their own travel and accommodation).

I bet you’re wondering “But how?”

Great question!

In 2015 and 2016 OHDSI’s coordinating center was awarded small conference grants from PCORI to cover the costs of audio/visuals, space rental and conference supplies. While these grants were a great starting point, they didn’t cover all costs necessary to run a successful symposium (tacos don’t pay for themselves).

Each year we’ve relied heavily on sponsors to keep the symposium free. If it weren’t for our generous sponsors, we never would have been able to offer tutorial sessions, pay for coffee and lunch or record all the spectacular presentations from the symposium and tutorials.

This year, we’re hoping to raise $200K in sponsorship funding. This will allow us to keep registration free for up to 500 attendees and pay for A/V, food & drink, WiFi and professional recording fees. To raise the funds, we’re reaching out to the entire OHDSI community and asking potential sponsors for their support to fund this important event.

Sponsors will be invited to provide any amount that is financially feasible for their organization. All sponsors will be recognized on the symposium website and during our welcome session.

Sponsors providing $15,000 or above will have the option of supporting one of the following symposium aspects:

  • Collaborator showcase
  • Tutorials
  • Networking reception
  • Coffee
  • Lunch
  • Wifi

Each element will only have one sponsor. Sponsors can choose which aspect they would like to fund on a first come first served basis. In addition, these sponsors will have their logo displayed online next to symposium and tutorial recordings.

In addition to sponsorship, we’re also working to setup a mechanism to collect optional registration fees. This will allow individuals to support the symposium in the form of registration fees.

So there you have it, unfortunately there really is no such thing as a free lunch, but with the right support there will be tacos.

If you’re interested if sponsoring this year’s symposium, feel free to email me at beaton@ohdsi.org or check out or symposium website for me details: https://www.ohdsi.org/events/2018-ohdsi-symposium/

(Anthony Reckard) #3

Last year I attended the OHDSI Symposium for the first time. Having completed a handful of OMOP conversions and coming from a background of computer science / healthcare analytics, I wasn’t sure of what to expect. I was pleasantly surprised and very impressed with what I saw. Here are my highlights:

  • Large diverse audience. Over 400 attendees from all sorts of disciplines and geographies.
  • Excellent research presentations and showcase
  • Meeting new people and learning from the community
  • Gained insights into real world use cases and the power of the OMOP CDM
  • Inspired to get more involved

Aside from being impressed by the work that went into the content of the symposium, I have to say that it was equally impressive of how well each attendee was cared for. The facility was extremely comfortable. We had WiFi in all conference rooms and food and drinks seem to appear out of nowhere.

The fact that the registration was “free” made me wonder who organized this thing? Like Maura said, “tacos aren’t free”, so how were the costs covered? Could this be sustained year after year? Thankfully I was made aware of the planning committee that is responsible for making the symposium happen and was able to volunteer to be part of the team. Now I am looking forward to getting past the initial learning phase and on to providing a helping hand for the 2018 symposium.

See you in September!

(Mui Van Zandt) #4

Since teaching the OMOP Vocabulary/CDM class at the 2017 Symposium, we have retaught the class multiple times. Preparing for each tutorial has proven to be a fun and enlightening journey.

We use to carry around flash drives that stored a 45 GB little box, ‘OHDSI-in-a-box’. Before the training, we would send out emails to have everyone download Oracle VM and a sample dataset to make sure the box was set up properly. At the beginning of the training, we would have the students download the box on the flash drives. At times, the box would not work and we would have to spend some time troubleshooting them. At the 2017 Symposium, we had a revolution. @jmwarfe created a remote desktop image which contains everything we needed. This allowed the students who had issues with the virtual box access the “box”. And the light bulb went off. Now, we no longer have carry the flash drives around. That’s community effort!!!

This year, we are preparing for multiple symposiums. Each symposium preparation is different and exciting on its own. The first tutorial took place last week at the European OHDSI Symposium. To prep for this tutorial, the teachers meet on a weekly basis to update the slides, practice, discuss agenda, and provide each other with support. The days leading up to the symposium, we did dry runs, check room set ups, make last minute changes, had a few laughs and a few hours less sleep. The day of the tutorial, we get up early to be in the classroom before everyone else and make sure everything is all ready to go. Talk about the nervousness that floated around. Of course, we had to run into technical issues. @Rijnbeek and his team came to the rescue. As the class got settled, the show began. And each teacher, regardless how nervous they were beforehand, got up there, they looked like natural experts. After 8 hours, each student walked out happy and full of knowledge about OMOP.

For the Chinese Symposium in June, work is beginning. We are gathering volunteer to teach or assist. Although this will be the third Symposium I’ll be teaching at, there is always different. For this tutorial, the logistics is going to be tricky. We are looking at running a few of the same class in parallel so there is a lot of coordination that needs to happen. Although challenging, I have confidence that the community will come together to help make the Chinese tutorials a success! We do have a train the trainer session in May in Shanghai so if you are interested in being a teacher, let me know.

Knowing my fellow teachers, they are going to want to start planning for the Symposium tutorials this fall soon. Thinking about it makes me very exciting. The collaboration, sense of team work, the friends you make, and the satisfaction you can get from it outweighs any all the hard work all the teachers put into it.
Be on the lookout for the tutorials this fall. They will not disappoint!

(Seng Chan You) #5

@mvanzandt, I’m not sure I can be helpful. But I can participate Hackathon in Shanghai as a helper for researcher or tutor.
I appreciate that you give Korean researchers a chance accessing the OHDSI big data.

(Kristin Feeney Kostka, MPH) #6

“What lies behind us and what lies before us are small matters compared to what lies within us,” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

I’ll admit it, I’m a bit of an OHDSI groupie. I wandered into the OHDSI Symposium in 2015. I watched presentations from @Patrick_Ryan @jon_duke @hripcsa and the rest was history. I knew immediately you all were my people: a whole world of people who shared my desire to improve patient outcomes through large scale analytics.

Since 2016, I’ve had the esteemed privilege to be a member of the Symposium Working Group. Behind the scenes, I’ve championed coordinating panel discussions and contributed significant effort to fundraising campaigns to make an OHDSI “free lunch” a reality.

As I reflect on the road behind us and the road ahead, I find myself falling into a textbook OHDSI habit – using Greek mythology to explain our journey. The legend of Pheidippides or Philippides details the story of the famous Greek messenger who was sent from the battlefield of Marathon to Athens to announce the Persians had been defeated. The story says that Philippides ran the entire distance without stopping and burst in, exclaiming the victory before succumbing to the exhaustion of his feat. The legend of his journey is what inspired the modern sporting event of the marathon.

As a 4x marathon runner (and a Bostonian eagerly looking forward to this coming Marathon Monday), I’ll be the first to admit that marathons are not for everyone. Marathons require significant preparation, self-sacrifice and grit. It’s a substantial commitment of time and a fair amount of physical pain for that unbelievable rush – the opportunity to push your physical limits to achieve a tremendous goal.

Helping to plan the OHDSI Symposium is no different. Each year we assemble a new plan to reach our goal. Community members sacrifice hours of their own time and dig deep into their own organizations and expertise to help bring the day to life. The resulting program showcases the tremendous power of our research network – advancing the rigor of observational research methods, showcasing the results of ongoing studies, providing demonstrations of the latest technology and sharing in a community dialogue that pushes our limits and sets new goals for improving patient outcomes.

I’m sure the danger to using this reference is that someone’s going to suggest we rename the Symposium Working Group “Philippides” as tribute. Joking aside, it’s important to embrace this metaphorical journey. It’s a true testament to the power of our incredible network and the way we, as a working group, are pursuing yet another feat of greatness.

2018 serves to be the best year yet. We started the year by going truly global. There’s plenty more in store. I can’t promise anyone’s as good at OHDSI Karaoke as @Rijnbeek but we’ll sure as heck try to raise the bar and push the envelope. Get ready for more enhancements and a whole lot of fun. Can’t wait to see you all in the fall!

(Melanie Philofsky) #7

Wide eyed and bushy tailed, a group of us from Colorado were led by our fearless leader, @mgkahn, to the 2016 Symposium where we were given a cup of the OMOP Kool-Aid. Prior to drinking the Kool-Aid, I did not know the next revolution in healthcare was coming down the pipe. One sip and I knew this was the path to the next revolution. Antibiotics gave us a huge leap forward in 20th century and observational data is going to give us the next leap forward.

After the Symposium, we, the University of Colorado Denver, were all in. We quickly decided to use the OMOP CDM as our core data model. We were making a big change and moving the data from the EHR database model (aka hoarder’s house) to the OMOP CDM (minimalist house). Life was good! As we reviewed the documentation, we realized some of the conventions were a little ambiguous or not definitive enough to give us the guidance we needed. Many work place discussions ensued about the correct way to do everything OMOP. So, I went to the forums for guidance. And many more debates and discussion took place! I’ve created over 30 topics since being welcomed into the community in June ’16, posted ~100 replies, and have been mentioned more than 50 times. I’m a frequent flyer and you may have seen my name before :slight_smile:

Fast forward to August 2017 and @Christian_Reich posts to the forum about a new work group named “THEMIS”, the Goddess of divine order. This was awesome, exactly what the community needed. Themis brought a unique opportunity to bring all the disparate points of view together and contribute to the development of a holistic and comprehensive approach for standardizing conventions throughout the OMOP CDM. More than 50 forum users responded to the call for participation!

The first homework was easy. Show up to the first work group meeting with all your complaints, issues, questions, and gray areas you need defined. The meeting was held the day before the US Symposium of 2017. THEMIS brought together representatives from all corners of the OMOP community: EHR data holders, data users, claims data holders, ETL experts, analytics gurus, software developers, vocabulary masters, old timers, newbies, organizers, OHDSI leadership, and more. The room was packed, people were sitting on the floor, ideas were plentiful, coffee was flowing, notes were taken, and THEMIS was born.

After the Symposium, we all took a deep breath and then self-assigned to the THEMIS focus groups which were roughly divided by domain. The list of issues from the 1st meeting was long. We brought up the issues and complaints, researched solutions, connected with experts, debated the options, wrote proposals, and created fancy slides for the next THEMIS F2F. Whew!

Out to warm and sunny California! @mchou & friends hosted us at Amgen and supplied us with tasty treats and plenty of coffee! Unfortunately, the snowstorm on the east coast kept some THEMIS friends stuck at home, but they actively participated via webex. Again, there was a lot of discussion, frequent debates, plenty of clarification, and consensus on many topics were reached over two very busy days. Not every idea from the original Themis discussion came to a conclusion. Some items were thrown back for more community input or clarification. Or because the item didn’t have a champion to present it to the group. Here is where we landed after 2 days at the THEMIS F2F


As you can see, we made a lot of progress! And there is still more work to be done!

If you want to review the work thus far, check out the THEMIS wiki. There are links to the project leads, the Focus Groups, the Workgroup members, and the GitHub repo. The Focus Group links contain the WebEx meeting info and issue Tracking Sheet with past meeting minutes linked as well. @mvanzandt will be sharing the latest updates on the May 8th Collaborators call.

Like everything OHDSI, THEMIS is open to everyone. You should join us :smile: Bring your ideas for improving the conventions and any questions that need clarification. Together we can work this out!

(Laura Hester) #8

Hi Fellow OHDSI Community Member -

I heard that you have completed brilliant research, a beautiful visualization, or ground-breaking software that you would like to show to the OHDSI community. That’s great! Now what? A fantastic way to share this research/project is at the Collaborator Showcase during the upcoming 2018 US OHDSI Symposium. With the Symposium’s “Call for Abstracts” opening soon, NOW is the time to start thinking about preparing the abstract for sharing your projects or research.

So, what exactly should you include in your abstract for the OHDSI Symposium, and how should this abstract be structured?

That is a great question! I encountered this dilemma last year as I prepared an abstract for my first OHDSI Symposium. Initially, I wrote my abstract based on the usual structure recommended by other scientific/academic conferences - a terse, 2000-character-limited summary of my research. After spending hours painstakingly shaving 10 characters from my abstract text (no one will notice that the plural word is missing a final “s,” right?), a colleague with ample OHDSI Symposium experience came to my rescue with a few hints on what makes a successful abstract for the Symposium. My role is to pass that wisdom on to you…

  1. OHDSI abstracts have a maximum length of TWO PAGES and the text can be single-spaced. For those who have spent more time cutting out words or characters from an abstract than conducting research, this long page limit is a breath of fresh air. Why would the abstract review committee want such long abstracts? Simply put, they want a deeper understanding of your work.

  2. It is recommended that you structure your abstract using the following sections: abstract, introduction, methods, results, conclusions. If you choose this structure, most of your abstract should focus on the methods and results. Your introduction should be concise, with a handful of meaningful sentences and an objective statement. If you are citing other work, include your references at the end.

  3. OHDSI abstracts can include TABLES AND FIGURES. A picture (or table) is worth a thousand words, especially if it neatly summarizes results or if the project design cannot be easily explained in words.

  4. Before you submit an abstract, decide whether you want to present your research project as a: 1) poster, 2) software demonstration, 3) video, or 4) lightning talk. You will have the option to select one or more of these presentation formats when you submit the abstract. Make sure your research/project description aligns with this format.

  5. You should be able to classify your research/project into one of the four focus areas of OHDSI: observational data standards and management, open source development, methodology research, or clinical applications. In addition, your research/project should have an impact in at least one of the following areas: observational data management, clinical characterization, population-level effect estimation, or patient-level prediction. Think through where your research/project is best classified before starting on your abstract.

This TEMPLATE can be used for preparing your abstract. Best of luck with the abstract – I’m looking forward to seeing you all at the Symposium.


Having attended the OHDSI Symposium since 2016, I find that poster preparation takes a fair amount of work. Based on my previous experiences, I wanted to share a few ideas that may help others preparing posters.

With every poster presentation, I like to plan ahead. I try to avoid being ill-prepared, or even worse, late and under pressure to finish the poster in a rushed fashion. As any scientist knows, we have co-authors to consider when preparing our work. Therefore, the first recommendation is to establish authorship order before a poster is developed and revisit the order if the project changes over time or if one person contributes more than another. The second recommendation is to establish weekly or bi-weekly meetings to review progress on the poster and get everyone’s interpretations of the findings. This process can generate new research to add to the poster and is important for including everyone’s voice. In the corporate or government environments, posters or presentations might need to undergo legal, compliance, and/or scientific review. In our company, we must submit our finalized work weeks in advance of the OHDSI abstract deadline date and poster finalization. Therefore, a third recommendation– leave time in the schedule in case the review requires substantial changes to your poster.

A short aside – during my first year at OHDSI, I excitedly drove to the airport, eager to meet new people in the OHDSI community and to present my poster. I was looking forward to finding likeminded people to discuss the topic. On my drive, I mentally reviewed my checklist for the trip, and EEK… I realized 15 minutes from the airport that I had left my poster tube at home. I did not have sufficient time to go home, retrieve the poster, and still arrive on time for my flight. In a panic, I turned the car around and frantically called the airline to share my dilemma. They graciously allowed me (and the poster I retrieved) to board the next flight. If this happens to you, there are locations near the hotel where posters can be prepared in 24 hours. For example, FedEx at 12125 Rockville Pike, North Bethesda is just 1 mile from the hotel or you can also use an online company like PhD posters (https://phdposters.com/) and have them ship the poster directly to the hotel! Unfortunately, although the hotel has a business center, it is not able to print scientific posters. So fourth recommendation – don’t panic if you forget your poster.

Fifth recommendation– during the poster presentation, be sure that you or another of your coauthors stay with your poster, even if it is tempting to wander to other posters you find interesting. People want to hear from you about your work and want to ask about your study findings. There will be time to peruse other work after your poster session is over.

Last and final recommendation – have fun and sit among people you don’t know to make new friends. Maybe you’ll end up being close collaborators on a future study.

(Laura Hester) #11

The location of the template has changed. Please find the updated template HERE.

(Hanieh Razzaghi) #12

I have a love-hate relationship with academia: the opportunity to chase new ideas lives in tension with whether the work I’m doing has any practical applications. In 2016, I was introduced to OHDSI (not “Odyssey”, which I learned the hard way!) and the OMOP data model. I fell hard into this world (all thanks to @bailey) and found myself extolling the virtues of this data model over others. I fell in love with the standardized vocabularies, the patient-centeredness of the model, the organization of the information, and the ultimate goal of structural and semantic harmonization that is ultimately used to make actual, real-life differences in research and patient health. My work started to feel more purpose-driven and innovative, even from my high ivory tower.

So of course when the opportunity came to read through abstracts and learn from other members of this community, I jumped at it. Of course I would review abstracts – it was a preview of the work to be showcased at the symposium!

The OHDSI community is a blend of academia/industry/non-profit, domestic/international, epidemiologists/programmers/informaticists, and so many other users from a multitude of backgrounds, with one goal - using the data model and other tools to advance patient care. This isn’t meant to sound cliché; it reflects the excitement and the energy I feel when I collaborate with members of the community. As I am reviewing the abstract submissions for the symposium this year, it has become even more evident that this community is unique and results-oriented. I compare the submissions to abstracts I see in academic conferences and the difference is clear – the underpinning of this data model and the culture of innovation in the community leads to practical advanced methods in observational research, new tools that that expand the versatility of the data model, and novel approaches to advance efficient and collaborative research. There is an innate drive and curiosity that motivates this community, and it has been evident in the abstracts that we have received. All that I love about this community has been reflected in these abstracts.

Unlike domain-focused conferences and workshops, the breadth of work being done by the community is expansive. There are traditional epidemiologists who are conducting large-scale analytics; programmers who develop software packages to use the underlying data more efficiently; informaticists who aim to expand the structure of the data to use with new technologies; information scientists who seek to better explain the semantics of the data and how information can be translated efficiently; entrepreneurs who provide insight into how the data model can quickly provide actionable information to business leaders. All members of the community are valuable; we fill in different pieces of the puzzle. As I am reviewing abstracts, the themes I keep coming back to are versatility, and people understanding their own strengths and the unique and valuable contributions they are able to make.

I am excited to attend the symposium again this year and learn from others in the community about their work. It’s been a privilege this year reviewing abstracts and getting a sneak preview of what’s to come!