UPMC: New Leaders, Same Big Health Tech Ambitions - InformationWeek

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1/6/2015
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UPMC: New Leaders, Same Big Health Tech Ambitions

Long a pioneer in adopting electronic medical records, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center is on the verge of making them work together in new ways.

success." The hallways are named after Pittsburgh streets, and some of the walls are covered with steel plates in honor of the city's industrial history.

As a complex organization -- a not-for-profit healthcare provider with for-profit subsidiaries and for-profit spinoffs emerging from the TDC -- UPMC attracts its share of criticism for its dominance. One recent controversy concerns UPMC's falling out with Highmark Blue Cross, which recently bought a competing hospital system, as UPMC forced people to choose between switching health plans or hospitals. UPMC maintains it's simply responding to competitive changes, as the lines between healthcare payers and providers continue to blur.

The Affordable Care Act also tends to encourage the creation of integrated payer-provider networks, changing the dynamics of competition. Some of UPMC's technology projects are aimed squarely at getting a better understanding of healthcare costs and managing them better, through better coordination of the payer and provider functions and integration of data from both sides.

A recent reorganization has broken down other walls within the organization, putting hospitals and UPMC-owned physician practices under common management in the new Health Services Division, where previously hospitals were managed separately.

With this push for organizational integration comes technological complexity. UPMC was an early adopter of electronic medical record systems, but it never standardized on a single EMR vendor. Cerner is its main inpatient hospital EMR, but UPMC uses Epic for outpatient operations, and several other systems are in the mix. Partly because of its need to integrate data from multiple EMRs, UPMC became an early investor in dbMotion,  the health information exchange middleware company that is now part of Allscripts. (Although the terms EMR and EHR are often used interchangeably, by definition an EHR is supposed to be a comprehensive record -- so if that exists at UPMC, it would have to be through the unification of multiple EMRs.)

Yet Shrestha says UPMC's best-of-breed approach to EMR technology is a blessing in disguise. "That diverse platform is an advantage when it comes to innovation," he says, by giving TDC staffers an opportunity to test technology products against multiple EMRs and related software products.

'No way through other than succeeding'
Later that day in a separate interview, Annerose Berndt, VP of analytics and information for UPMC, rolled her eyes at the notion of diverse data sources being a positive. "Who told you that?" she asked, because it's her job to merge data from multiple sources and derive useful clinical and operational intelligence from it. "dbMotion was supposed to do it, but it doesn't really," she lamented. As someone trying to integrate more exotic data, such as genomic information, for better clinical decision support, the minutiae of reconciling data from multiple EMRs are a pure annoyance. Regardless, she's determined, saying that for the big data breakthroughs she wants to achieve, "there is no way through other than succeeding."

UPMC has taken a different approach to data integration with another TDC project, slated to launch as a spinoff company called Fluence at the upcoming HIMSS healthcare IT conference in April. The new firm will be built around the Windows tablet app that UPMC demonstrated at HIMSSlast year under the name Convergence, because it brings together data from multiple sources. Fluence is an example of what Shrestha meant when he spoke of making a virtue of UPMC's data source diversity; the system creates an "agnostic" view of health data drawn from four different EMRs and presents it in a unified user interface. For the data-integration piece, UPMC worked with Caradigm, a joint venture of GE and Microsoft, and got additional help from Intel.

The idea behind Fluence is to unify data around the tasks clinicians need to perform during a patient visit, while also suggesting pathways for appropriate care of that individual. "We are trying to make it easier for clinicians to do more of the right things," Shrestha says.

Fluence functions something like a data analytics portal -- although Windows-based rather than Web-based -- with hooks into the underlying systems for single sign-on. Clinicians use the app mainly to explore

David F. Carr oversees InformationWeek's coverage of government and healthcare IT. He previously led coverage of social business and education technologies and continues to contribute in those areas. He is the editor of Social Collaboration for Dummies (Wiley, Oct. 2013) and ... View Full Bio

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asksqn
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asksqn,
User Rank: Ninja
3/28/2015 | 10:52:09 AM
Nunya
I don't know that data mining cos. have any legitimate business to access EHR in the first place.  Quite frankly, if I received a notice to schedule an appointment with a doctor's office from a business such as High Fidelity, I would not hesistate to submit a HIPPA complaint.  
ChrisMurphy
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ChrisMurphy,
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1/6/2015 | 3:03:58 PM
Ambition
Good to see UPMC sticking to its guns with new tech leadership. Given the scale of its ambition and commitment, it would've been disappointing if they couldn't make a go of it 
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