Fairbaugh, who rose through the ranks as a paramedic and nurse before getting a Master's in nursing informatics, has been named chief clinical information officer for the Pittsburgh-based 40-hospital health system.
Fairbaugh had been director of clinical and operational informatics and emergency services at UPMC Magee-Women's Hospital prior to the promotion, and now supports clinical operations across the Pittsburgh-based health system's 40 hospitals and 800 outpatient sites. A former paramedic, he has more than 21 years of experience in nursing, emergency medicine and informatics, joining UPMC as a nurse in 2002 and completing his Master's in nursing informatics in 2013.
HealthLeaders recently spoke to Fairbaugh—virtually—about his role and his priorities.
Q. What are the responsibilities of a Chief Clinical Information Officer?
Fairbaugh: As the chief clinical information officer, I oversee the safe, secure implementation of technology in the healthcare workplace. My teams are familiar with current medical systems, and continually seek opportunities to integrate technology to a greater extent within these systems to improve the quality and effectiveness of care.
John Fairbaugh, MSN, RN-BC, chief clinical information officer, UPMC. Photo courtesy UPMC.
In this complex field, as informaticists, we need to consider the combination of healthcare practices with IT resources and analytics to measure and improve outcomes, drive healthcare decisions, and to provide a high-quality experience for both our patients and providers.
Q. Your healthcare career began as a paramedic, then transitioned to nursing before moving into informatics. How has that career path shaped your view of clinical informatics?
Fairbaugh: This career path has allowed me to see many different aspects of healthcare, both in the ambulatory and the inpatient setting. As the healthcare landscape shifts from a traditional inpatient to more of an ambulatory outpatient approach, having the knowledge of both will help me lead my teams to implement technology that will communicate across all venues.
Digital technology is rapidly changing the way we live, and healthcare is not immune to this. The way providers deliver care will continue to be challenged as more consumers want increased access and convenience to manage their care. This shift will require organizations to implement technology that allows for improved communications and tools that enhance both the clinician and patient experience.
Q. What are your goals for 2023 and beyond in this role?
Fairbaugh: Over the years as our $24 billion heath system has grown, our IT systems have become increasingly large and complex. This has led to a deterioration in usability and created alert fatigue and documentation burdens, while exacerbating some disruptive workflows.
The plan for my team is to work collaboratively with both our IT and clinical leadership to implement standardized technology that supports the mission, vision, and values of UPMC. We will concentrate on taking an enterprise approach that enhances quality and safety, user and patient experience, and financial stewardship. Our people must remain our priority during this time to promote efficiency, usability, reliability, and connectivity for all users and patients.
Q. How has the pandemic affected clinical informatics, and what have you learned from the pandemic that you'll be applying to your job?
Fairbaugh: COVID has allowed healthcare leaders to see how vulnerable we are as healthcare organizations and has escalated the need for technology transformation and the growth of healthcare informatics. As we face today’s financial and staffing demands, we must radically improve our technology to adapt and support clinical workflows. As a leader in technology adoption and innovation, UPMC is well-positioned to drive this change.
Q. How do you define and approach healthcare innovation? What new technologies would you like to use?
Fairbaugh: Healthcare innovation will mean providing patients and providers with technology options that harness opportunity to manage complex health issues. It will be necessary for organizations to provide access to digital tools, apps, and health trackers with embedded artificial intelligence (AI). When providers and patients have this access, it will improve their ability to prevent disease and manage care, while also improving our patients’ ability to make the best medical decisions for themselves.
Q. How has the value and usefulness of the EHR evolved over the past few years? How do you or your department use the EHR? And how could that platform be improved?
Fairbaugh: Technology has become the new normal for our healthcare industry. Although many remember the days of paper charting, we all know the power of data to drive high-quality decisions.
Providers also depend on technology to collaborate and manage care.
Healthcare consumers also want to utilize technology to manage their care to enhance convenience and ensure they are getting the best value possible along with quality outcomes.
We as healthcare organizations will need to look at our technology over the next few years and implement systems that help improve communications and decision-making while providing patients with quick access to their records to collaborate with their providers. For this reason, it will be necessary for organizations to implement systems with standardized technology and interoperability to share information quickly with many different applications and tools to make the technology meaningful for every user.
Q. How do you see the role of CCIO evolving? What more would you like to do in this position in the future?
Fairbaugh: The chief clinical information officer role has evolved from handling day-to-day clinical technology operations to being a key leader in strategic decision-making. Today's technology is changing at an ever-rapid pace and requires more critical thinking about interoperability, security, and usability to ensure our providers have the necessary tools to support clinical practice and to limit disruption that may affect patient outcomes. Our non-IT clinical leaders depend on our expertise to ensure technology supports clinical workflows, evidence-based care, and the best outcomes for our patients and the entire organization.
This position and healthcare informatics in general require that informaticists have a formal knowledge of both clinical and IT models and workflows. We need to be the change agents that mediate the collaboration between clinicians and IT which requires us to have experience in both. Until recently, there has been an abundance of siloed work which has increased our vulnerability as organizations. As we move forward, we need to develop and form a concrete governance structure that improves the collaboration and decision making as an organization to meet our goals.
Q. How does the CCIO impact the evolution of healthcare as we move from episodic to value-based care?
Fairbaugh: As payers prioritize value-based care, hospitals will be charged with aligning their processes and workflows to support this new healthcare delivery model. As a leading integrated healthcare insurer and provider, UPMC understands the need to improve our technology to support consistent medical practice with standardized workflows and to identify and support patients who are most at risk for adverse outcomes.
CCIOs will be challenged by their organizations to improve communication among many different healthcare providers so the care can be shared among many specialists. Placing meaningful data in the hands of physicians and other care providers will give them more control over patient outcomes. This will help drive high quality care and provide benchmarking of value-based metrics, like length of stay and readmission rates, to drive results.
“Digital technology is rapidly changing the way we live, and healthcare is not immune to this. The way providers deliver care will continue to be challenged as more consumers want increased access and convenience to manage their care. ”
— John Fairbaugh, MSN, RN-BC, chief clinical information officer, UPMC.
Eric Wicklund is the Innovation and Technology Editor for HealthLeaders.
UPMC's new chief clinical information officer, John Fairbaugh, has more than 21 years of experience, and says his career path has helped him to see how a healthcare system uses technology both inside and outside the hospital.
The pandemic has pushed new technology, like digital health and telehealth, to the forefront of patient care, and he sees his role and helping both providers and patients make the best use of the new tools at their disposal.
Fairbaugh says the CCIO role has evolved from handling daily clinical tasks to overseeing the health system's technology strategy, easing the lines of communication between clinical and IT staff, and improving the link between payers and providers.