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InformationWeek 500: UPMC Goes Well Beyond Innovation

The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center is commercializing much of the technology it develops to solve its own problems.

At University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, being an early adopter of technology isn't good enough. UPMC's culture is about innovation and entrepreneurship--developing and deploying technology-based products and services not only for internal use, but also for sale to other healthcare providers

The medical center operates 20 hospitals, 400 doctor groups, outpatient care facilities, and a healthcare plan in western Pennsylvania. It has a decade-long history of developing tech innovations to improve processes, reduce costs, and boost the quality of care, both on its own and in partnership with vendors and other companies.

Just in the last year, UPMC has commercialized several IT-based innovations, including Via Oncology, a subsidiary whose Web decision-support tools help oncologists choose cancer treatments that are likely to produce the best outcomes and least complications for patients. Those tools were developed originally for UPMC's doctors to treat cancer patients at any of its 38 therapy centers.

Another recent UPMC innovation is SingleView, a standards-based platform that pulls together the multiple picture archiving and communications systems, or PACS, used across the medical center's facilities. With 20 hospitals and 30 outpatient imaging centers, UPMC has multiple imaging systems and archives, each creating a silo of patient information.

SingleView, developed by a small team of UPMC clinicians and IT staff two years ago, lets the medical center's 20,000 radiologists, doctors, and other clinicians access reports and imaging studies in any of the PACS and other imaging systems across the enterprise. That way, they know which tests have already been done on a patient before scheduling new ones. The system also makes previous images available to doctors for comparison.

Having this information available has reduced considerably the number of unnecessary and redundant tests ordered for patients and kept patients from being exposed to unnecessary radiation, says Dr. Rasu Shrestha, medical director of digital imaging informatics and a leader of SingleView. It's also reducing the number of disputes with payers over unneeded or redundant testing, he says.

 CIO Dan Drawbaugh and Dr. Rasu Shrestha, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center
(click image to go to InformationWeek 500 Top 10 slideshow)
Drawbaugh (left) and Shrestha are pushing to commercialize more UPMC technology

Other large integrated healthcare providers, including Kaiser Permanente and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, are keeping an eye on SingleView, Shrestha says, though UPMC has yet to decide whether to take it commercial. Besides being a useful image management tool, SingleView also has "the makings of a health information exchange with a keen focus on radiology," he says.

The Big Consolidation

Five years ago, UPMC launched a multimillion-dollar, eight-year "IT transformation," in partnership with IBM, under which the medical center has virtualized and consolidated servers in its three largest data centers and built a private cloud. UPMC's virtualized environment of Wintel and Unix servers, networking, and storage is where all production, testing, enterprise, and clinical systems run, says Paul Sikora, VP of IT transformation.

That effort has saved UPMC at least $80 million over three years in capital and operating costs, according to an IDC evaluation. Included in that savings is $17 million to $20 million by reducing the number of Wintel servers from 1,300 to 22 and Unix servers from 74 to 14; those Unix boxes are now logically partitioned into 500 servers, Sikora says.

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