INDUSTRY-EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: CIO Dan Drawbaugh on UPMC’s Groundbreaking Analytics Agenda

January 13, 2013
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As the vast UPMC system moves forward on its big-data journey Dan Drawbaugh offers lessons learned so far
INDUSTRY-EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW:  CIO Dan Drawbaugh on UPMC’s Groundbreaking Analytics Agenda

A lot has been going on lately at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) health system in western Pennsylvania. Last October, the UPMC system, a $10 billion annual integrated health enterprise based in Pittsburgh, which encompasses more than 20 hospitals and 400 outpatient care sites, employs more than 3,200 physicians, and counts 55,000 employees, announced a five-year, $100 million enterprise healthcare analytics initiative to foster personalized medicine and other core strategic healthcare IT goals for the organization, partnering with several prominent vendors—Oracle, IBM, Informatica, and dbMotion.

As a press release made public on Oct. 1 noted, the leaders at UPMC are determined to harness the data found in various sources in their organization to create a best-in-class data warehouse to drive massive advanced analytics and predictive modeling capabilities. The initiative also accords with an explicit strategy on the part of UPMC leaders to partner as much as possible with IT vendors and other healthcare business organizations with compatible visions for the future of healthcare, a strategy that has already led to breakthroughs in such areas as digital pathology and semantic interoperability.

The scope of the big-data initiative announced in October is virtually unprecedented in private healthcare in the United States. But it accords perfectly with the ambitious overall agenda for corporate development and performance improvement that enjoys consensus support across the UPMC organization. Among the senior leaders in the vast integrated healthcare organization helping to move this agenda forward is, of course, Dan Drawbaugh, UPMC’s senior vice president and CIO. Drawbaugh welcomed HCI Editor-in-Chief Mark Hagland to sit down with him in his offices at the top of the US Steel Tower in downtown Pittsburgh for an exclusive interview, at a crucial moment in UPMC’s ongoing evolution. Below are excerpts from that interview.

What are your high-level thoughts on where IT fits into the broadly ambitious overall corporate agenda for UPMC as an organization, and the journey forward towards the new healthcare, towards a healthcare system in this country that will be more transparent, accountable, reliable, cost-effective, higher-quality, and consumer- and payer-responsive?

A couple of things. One is relates to the role of IT, as we move into the era of big data and big science, something that Dr. Steve [Steven D.] Shapiro [M.D.], our chief medical and scientific officer talks about; and that is that intensively leveraging IT for overall organizational performance improvement is becoming the norm. So while healthcare was always was a data-intensive industry, the amount of data before electronic health records hit, was manageable. But now, if you look at the growth curve in the electronic health record world, the data is doubling in volume every 18 months. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. What happens is that, with the science side also advancing, you’re going to get to exponential growth. And I like to put ourselves in a place where we’re ready for things, almost as though something might happen tomorrow, so that even if you know something is three years out, I like to ask people here, what if something in particular happens tomorrow? Are we ready for it?

So from a strategy perspective, I see things like systems engineering being valuable, as some are calling it. And in the storage world, we’re moving from disc to computer storage right on the system, with flash technologies. And Oracle and IBM are working on that area.

And accessing the data, making it available, providing predictive analytics, are a part of that. It’s almost like a tapestry of different elements is involved, and it’s becoming clearer, and you’re starting to see the pieces of what you’ll need in place. I look at our strategy here at UPMC around the electronic health record, then interoperability, then semantic interoperability, and into predictive analytics, and our strategy has to keep evolving very quickly, as the technology evolves. Our focus is on execution. And it’s easier when you’ve seen someone else do something. But we’re pushing the envelope, so in some ways, that requires trial and error.

Meanwhile, as knowledge gleaned from academic research gets transferred to practicing physicians and as they become knowledge about the technologies involved in genomic medicine, I can see where that will also involve an iterative process feeding back into the electronic health record and into patient care.

With information from both genomic medicine and from outcomes research emerging, do you see a continuous cycle of analytics and performance improvement for medicine?

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