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Better Medicine Through Technology

University of Pittsburgh Medical Center CIO Dan Drawbaugh is writing the prescription for health care transformation.

Physician, heal thyself! much easier said, apparently, than done.

The U.S. health care industry has been slow to transform itself, largely because doctors and hospital administrators have been laggards in adopting new information technology. Researchers, including those at the Institute of Medicine, estimate that the use of health care IT, such as electronic prescription systems and digitized medical records, could prevent tens of thousands of deaths and more than a million medical mistakes each year, and save billions of dollars in costs related to inefficient and redundant processes and medical complications.

But for most health care organizations, where paper still rules, these changes aren't cheap or easy. Researchers estimate that fewer than a quarter of the nation's hospitals have deployed electronic medical record systems. President Bush has set 2014 as the deadline for the digitization of most Americans' health records.

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Fortunately, there are exceptions. The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, under CIO Dan Drawbaugh, is among the most aggressive, having deployed e-medical record systems in 18 of its 19 hospitals. In addition, computerized physician order-entry systems and clinical support tools are used in several of UPMC's hospitals, and it plans to extend that technology to most of the others within three years. A service-oriented architecture and Web services are the software underpinnings of it all.

Mountains of electronic data won't help, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center CIO Dan Drawbaugh says, unless you have the right tools

Mountains of electronic data won't help, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center CIO Dan Drawbaugh says, unless you have the right tools

Photo by Richard Kelly
The goal is interoperability among UPMC's many disparate IT systems, which include applications from more than 120 vendors, so that the center's thousands of doctors and clinicians have quick, easy, and reliable access to patient data in the form of text, images, voice, and video. "This technology will provide very integrated, interactive delivery of patient information that moves with the patient," Drawbaugh says.

UPMC execs are big believers in the transformative nature of IT. "Technology is the backbone of a world-class health care system," says CEO Jeffrey Romoff. "Under Dan's IT leadership, UPMC has been at the forefront of developing a truly integrated information system and advanced solutions to ensure that every patient gets the right care at the right time."

That kind of thoughtful planning has made Drawbaugh a central figure in health care IT circles. "UPMC is a terrific leader in the field, and Dan in particular has been a pioneer and role model, which is important as others embark on this journey," says Janet Marchibroda, CEO of eHealth Initiative, a nonprofit group trying to improve health care quality, safety, and efficiency through the adoption of IT. Given the critical nature of the work at hand--and his team's embrace of that challenge--Drawbaugh gets the nod as InformationWeek's Chief of the Year for 2006.

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