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IT Leaders Begin Taking Center Stage as Technology Initiatives Drive Organizational Strategies

Analysis  |  By Scott Mace  
   February 08, 2021

UPMC CIO juggles priorities with vaccination rollout and April 5 info blocking rule deadline.

As new rules take effect April 5 to prevent information blocking by hospitals, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC), a $21 billion nonprofit headquartered in Pittsburgh, will be one of the larger health systems scrutinized early on for compliance.  Like other organizations, UPMC has had to juggle multiple IT priorities to meet the changing healthcare landscape.   

Ed McCallister, senior vice president and chief information officer of UPMC, leads a team of more than 2,000 professionals in UPMC's Information Services Division. HealthLeaders spoke with McAllister about UPMC's preparedness for the April 5 information blocking deadline, vaccination scheduling, and the eventual migration of its data centers to the cloud.

Following are excerpts from the interview, lightly edited for space and clarity. We invite you to read Part 1 of this interview, where McCallister explores how remote working and telehealth have forever changed IT dynamics.

HealthLeaders: How much work have you had to do to get ready for the information blocking rule?

Ed McCallister: The pandemic definitely created a challenge around it because of resources and priorities. We were preparing for it, we were taking the steps, and I'm comfortable that we'll be able to meet the requirements set forth around access to information. But it absolutely presented a challenge. When the rules were set, I didn't think that we'd have a development team working on a vaccine scheduling system, a vast tracking system. But I'm not uncomfortable that we won't be ready for it. Again, we have some time. And I think we've been thinking about it for a long time. It's that balance between providing our patients and our members of our health plan information that's necessary for them to be able to best manage their care with the HIPAA rules, and the privacy rules, as well as it's an ever-challenging world around cybersecurity.

Related: Info Blocking Resource Center Opens as April 5 Deadline Approaches

Related: New Resources for ONC Cures Act Final Rule Released as First Compliance Date Nears

Ed McCallister, senior vice president and chief information officer, UPMC (Photo courtesy of UPMC)

HL: How is vaccination scheduling going?

McCallister: You build when you need to, but you buy when you need to. So we partnered with a company to do biometrics called CERTIFY Global, and we collected over 1 million fingerprints, pre-pandemic, and it was going very smoothly. You walk in, you register yourself, you have a seat, and it worked out very well. We're using that vendor right now for the platform on our vaccine scheduling system.

HL: More providers are moving much of their IT infrastructure into the cloud—not just Microsoft 365—but also for electronic health record (EHR) infrastructure. Where are you on that journey?

McCallister: We're not there. We're not EHR in the cloud right now. What we have invested in is our clinical analytics platform. Traditionally, it was called a data warehouse, and we approached it more as a vault for data. We're using the cloud extensively around our data analytics efforts.

Our clinicians stick the patient directly in the middle. [Chief Health Care Data and Analytics Officer Oscar Marroquin, MD, FAAC] is doing some really great things around our clinical analytics. My job is to make sure that he has the platform and the information, [so] that he can do what he needs to do. And again, a majority of it is done in the cloud. It's around EHRs. It's around, how do we proactively treat patients? Eventually, we'll have that as part of the care where the AI and the analytics are coming into play, and they're going to drive more and more in medicine. Oscar's at the forefront of doing that for us.

HL: Do you think cloud data centers are the inevitable future? A lot of hospitals seem to be interested in getting out of the business of running data centers.

McCallister: I'm at the front of the line leading us out of the data center business. I would envision that the Googles, the AWSs [Amazon Web Services], the Amazons, the Microsofts, that's the business that they're in, running data centers. We actually moved out of our [old] data center. We had some aging data centers. Our primary data center was 22 years old. Our backup data center was 30 years old. Not only that, they were only a couple miles apart.

I guess it's been five years, we moved to a colocation arrangement with a company called Involta, and they’ve been a very good partner in what we're doing, so that will be our primary data center. Our data center here in Pittsburgh will be our backup site. But again, it's a hybrid model where we have the data centers, we don't own the data center. We lease the data center space. They help us manage the data center. We can get back to the business of taking care of patients, because that's what we do at UPMC. So I absolutely would 100% agree with being out of the data center business is where we're headed, and it is a good thing.

HL: How do you see information technology rising to the challenge of the next phase of the pandemic?

McCallister: The traditional IT model was to receive the specifications requirements from a business leader, and then you enable that great business strategy. Now, not only have we sat shoulder-to-shoulder with the business leaders, we've actually taken the lead in many areas and been able to educate the business leaders and given them options on how do we best do something. Before, we were more an enabler of a strategy; we now create the strategy, and in the future, technology will be able to lead versus follow. This accelerated a process that was happening for a long period of time.

“Before, we were more an enabler of a strategy; we now create the strategy.”

Scott Mace is a contributing writer for HealthLeaders.


UPMC CIO says he is ready for the April 5 information blocking rule deadline.

Info blocking preparations during the pandemic presented a challenge to the IT organization.

The health system is "at the front of the line leading us out of the data center business," says the CIO.

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