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James E. Levin, M.D., Ph.D., 1958-2013: An Appreciation

February 12, 2013
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Dr. Jim Levin was both a clinical informatics pioneer and a true mensch

James E. Levin, M.D., Ph.D.

Dr. Jim Levin was both a clinical informatics pioneer and a true mensch. Well do I remember the first time I met him, four years ago, when in the spring of 2009, as I was meeting with executives and leaders from across the UPMC health system in Pittsburgh, to find out what UPMC leaders were doing to leverage information technology for systemic performance improvement across their 20-plus-hospital integrated system. On my second full day in Pittsburgh, I toured Children’s Hospital with Dr. Levin, the hospital’s CMIO, Jaque Dailey, the hospital’s CIO, and other IT and clinician leaders. Coincidentally, the new Children’s facility had just opened a few days earlier, and things were so new that the hospital even smelled new.

In fact, things were so new that virtually everyone at Children’s Hospital was still getting lost finding their way through their gorgeous new, state-of-the-art pediatric inpatient facility. So as Dr. Levin gave me a quick tour before we sat down to talk about his team’s innovations, he kept taking us the wrong way down hallways and stairwells. But each time we took a wrong turn, he would just quietly ask directions from the staff member at hand, would chuckle a throaty little chuckle, and would then head us once again in the right direction.

It was  typical of Dr. Levin that he was always steady and unflappable, someone who accepted situations for what they were, and then calmly moved to improve them. And of course, that became clearer moments later when he and his colleagues invited me into a conference room, where he presented in a very systematic way to me some of the many results of the organization-wide work they were engaged in to improve patient care quality outcomes, leveraging the electronic health record (EHR) at Children’s, along with the electronic medication administration record (eMAR), pharmacy information system, data warehouse, clinical and business intelligence and analytics capabilities, and other systems, to reduce medication administration errors, optimize outcomes in difficult clinical situations, and accomplish a host of other improvements. What Dr. Levin and his colleagues were and are doing at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh is providing leadership to the entire healthcare industry in the U.S., as his peers nationwide work to implement similar clinical IT-facilitated performance improvement initiatives in their own organizations.

The level of respect that Dr. Levin elicited from his fellow CMIOs was evident a little over a year later in Ojai, California, when he and Chris Longhurst, M.D., the CMIO at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford University, co-presented on their organizations’ initiatives and research at the annual physician symposium held by the leaders of AMDIS (the Association of Medical Directors of Information Systems). As worthy as the other presentations were at AMDIS that year, the co-presentation by Drs. Levin and Longhurst blew all the others out of the water, and was enthusiastically applauded by the assembled CMIOs. Being lauded by one’s peers is one of the highest honors one can receive; but when I congratulated Jim Levin on his and Chris Longhurst’s hugely impressive presentation, he modestly shrugged his shoulders and smiled. He was never a boastful person; instead, he was laser-focused on what was most important. As he had told me at Children’s Hospital the day on which we had met and he had given me that facility tour, when I had asked him how he and other IT leaders at Children’s were able to achieve consensus among clinicians and others and move forward on key IT implementation and performance improvement objectives, “We have an advantage in a children’s hospital, because of our focus: it’s really all about the kids.”

There are many, many people who knew Dr. Levin better than I did, and who had years of experience working with him on the front lines of the effort to forge the new healthcare. I’m certain that they will add their voices to the chorus of acclaim for this exceptional healthcare leader and exceptional human being. And to  whatever words of praise they offer for Jim Levin, I will gladly add my own “amen.”




I've had the distinct privilege of working with Jim for the past year. I'm sure many knew him better, but I wanted to pass along my deep appreciation for Jim as a researcher and as a person.
The project we collaborated on required careful and analytic thought as well as a grasp of the literature. Jim's comments were always insightful. At one point he told me that he had attended every AMIA meeting. I think he knew everyone in the field.

When Jim took me on a tour, what excited him was that nurses weren't sitting at the nursing stations, that he had helped enable nurses to spend more time in the patient's room.

For some people, this is just a job. For others, you know right away that they are in it to make a difference... in Jim's case to help the kids.

At times like these, one feels a sense of powerlessness. Events unfold and we are left as bystanders.

I suppose that all one can ask is that we were counted for the good.

Jim was.

Thank you so much for your wonderful comment, Dr. Rothman. I know your sentiments are shared by many in the field.

Thank you for sharing this. I've printed this out and taped it up on the wall to share it with my family. It feels good to know that Jim was appreciated.

Regina Levin

You are so very welcome, Mrs. Levin. We all mourn Dr. Levin's passing both personally and professionally. He was a wonderful leader in our industry. I know that he will be deeply missed on a personal level as well, of course.